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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 15, 2008 | Vol. 38 No. 3
Imaging Scientist Earns New NIH Grant for Innovative Research

By Gary Stephenson
Johns Hopkins Medicine

Jeff W.M. Bulte, professor of radiology, biomedical engineering and chemical and biomolecular engineering in the Russell H. Morgan Department of Radiology and Radiological Science in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, is one of 38 U.S. scientists to win one of the National Institutes of Health's new EUREKA (for Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration) grants.

According to the NIH, EUREKA grants are provided to fund "exceptionally innovative research projects that could have extraordinarily significant impact on many areas of science."

Bulte's award, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is for $200,000 per year for four years and will be used to develop a new method, called magnetic particle imaging, of visualizing transplanted stem cells in the brains of animals with stroke.

Like conventional magnetic resonance imaging, MPI uses strong magnetic fields to produce images. Unlike MRI, which produces images of tissue in response to the magnetic fields, the MPI technique visualizes the magnetic particles loaded onto cells injected into the body. The result is an image that is far more sensitive than MRI and one that can count the actual number of cells, becoming a direct rather than indirect magnetic tracer that can see "hot spots" without confounding "background noise."

"There is little question the field of cellular therapeutics will ultimately become very important in treating or possibly curing many neurodegenerative diseases," Bulte said. "In order for us to make this a reality, we need noninvasive methods for tracking where these cells actually go within the body and the mechanisms of that homing and migration."

In his work, Bulte, who serves as the director of the Cellular Imaging Section in the Johns Hopkins Institute for Cell Engineering, loads superparamagnetic tracers onto neural and mesenchymal cells and then injects them into experimental animals. "If this new imaging technique is developed sufficiently and successfully, it will help us understand much better where the cells exactly go into the brain and elsewhere in the body, and eventually facilitate the use of stem cells to cure or treat diseases."


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