Postgraduate Training Program in Medical Imaging Research

The Postgraduate Training Program in Medical Imaging (PTPMI) provides research training in medical imaging, as currently applied to disciplines such as nuclear medicine (PET and SPECT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT). The goal of the PTPMI is to provide an avenue for doctoral scientists in physics, engineering, mathematics, statistics, as well as related disciplines to enter and be successful in medical imaging research. This is achieved by providing training in radiological sciences to trainees with a strong quantitative background via structured didactic courses and seminars, enabling graduates to critically evaluate the field and formulate their own research ideas. Trainees participate in leading-edge research, with the opportunity to interact with a world-class faculty in a setting that combines the resources of the Harvard Medical School Joint Program in Nuclear Medicine (HMS-JPNM), the Harvard-affiliated Teaching Hospitals (e.g., Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Children’s Hospital Boston (CHB)), Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST). The program stresses the methodology needed to advance medical imaging research specifically (in contrast to research training in imaging probes, animal models, or the study of disease mechanisms). The major foci of the didactic program are: (1) the physics of image formation with radiation, magnetic resonance and computed tomography, (2) the use of image processing to enhance the quantitative diagnostic and therapeutic capabilities of medical imaging, (3) the kinetic modeling of physiological processes needed to test hypotheses with cross-sectional PET, SPECT, CT, MRI and fMRI, as well as proton therapy and to advance quantitative functional imaging and molecular medicine.

Currently, we have four trainees enrolled in PTPMI. The researchers and their areas of interest are listed below.

  • Xiaomeng Zhang, Ph.D.

    Dr. Zhang was trained for his Ph.D. in MRI physics and imaging applications with contrast agents to measure tumor microenvironment. Several medical imaging modalities were involved, including extracellular pH imaging, Dynamic Susceptibility Contrast (DSC), Dynamic Contrast Enhanced (DCE) imaging and Diffusion Weighted MR Imaging (DW-MRI). MR pulse sequence programming and image reconstruction were also the part of his Ph.D. study. After graduation, Dr. Zhang worked as a post-doctoral fellow in the field of cancer imaging at the Moffitt Cancer Center. His research focused on imaging tumor microenvironment (pH, vasculature and metabolism) with MRI, hyperpolarized 13C magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), and imaging for cancer metabolism.

    • Simultaneous PET/MRS measurements: Currently at MGH, Dr. Zhang is working on imaging cancer with simultaneous PET/MRI/MR spectroscopy. The goal of his research is to develop and validate a novel biological image-guided approach to neoadjuvant (preoperative) radiotherapy (RT) or chemoradiation (chemoRT) of cancer.

  • Daniel Albrecht, Ph.D.

    Dr. Albrecht received his Ph.D. in Medical Neuroscience from the Indiana University School of Medicine in 2014, where he used PET imaging to determine how the dopamine system is affected in substance use disorders and chronic pain conditions. Currently, he is continuing his work in chronic pain, with an interest in integrated PET/MR imaging of neuroinflammation, with a focus on neuron-glia interactions, and how reactive glial cells may contribute to chronic pain pathology. His research is focused on neuroimmune processing, with the hopes that better understanding will lead to improved treatments for many neurological disorders affected by neuroinflammation.

    • Improved simultaneous PET-MRI estimation of [11C]PBR28 signal in chronic low back pain: Our lab recently provided novel evidence that chronic low back pain is associated with high levels of [11C]PBR28 binding, indicating that reactive glial cells may underlie some components of persistent pain in humans. This initial analysis was performed using SUVs normalized by whole-brain uptake, which accounts for global signal differences such as those conferred by a SNP in the TSPO gene (target for [11C]PBR28), but may have the unwanted effect of reducing sensitivity to detect significant effects in regions with more subtle increases in tracer binding. The goal of this project is to identify suitable pseudo-reference regions to normalize SUV and better estimate [11C]PBR28 binding, using several kinetic modeling methods.

  • Behzad Ebrahimi, Ph.D.

    Dr. Ebrahimi trained for his biomedical/medical engineering Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. He studied cerebral blood flow using MRI.

    • Current research topics: Resting state functional MRI to compare regional interactions in the brains of subjects with traumatic brain injury (TBI) with those of controls.
      The effect of brain tumor and proton radiotherapy on functional and structural connectivity in pediatric patients. Searching for early biomarkers of radiotherapy cognitive deficit (TIP funded project)

  • Moses Q. Wilks, Ph.D.

    Dr. Wilks recently received his PhD in Biomathematics from the University of California, Los Angeles. His graduate work centered on increased quantification of medical imaging modalities. Specifically he worked on techniques for longitudinal prediction of dementia progression using [18F]-FDDNP. Additionally he developed methods for accurate kinetic modeling of large, slowly-diffusing radiotracers, applied to radio-labeled antibodies for targeting tumor imaging.

    • Current research topic: PET imaging with multifunctional nanoparticles, for tracking monocytes, and for passively targeted imaging of tumors.

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