Guest editorial – John C. Gore, Ph.D.

Biology, biomarkers and the workings of the human brain: The extraordinary reach of imaging science

John C. Gore, Ph.D.
Director, Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science
Chancellor’s University Professor of Radiology & Radiological Sciences and Biomedical Engineering
Professor of Molecular Biology & Biophysics, and of Physics
Published: February, 2006

John C. Gore, Ph.D., with three-dimensional rendering of a functional magnetic resonance image (fMRI) of the brain projected onto his forehead.
Photo by Dean Dixon
After X-rays were first discovered in 1895, their strange and wonderful properties were almost immediately exploited for medical uses. They gave physicians for the first time the ability to “see” inside the human body non-invasively, and a whole new medical specialty, diagnostic radiology, was created. A little over a century later, a similar revolution is occurring with the development of a multitude of advanced technologies capable of providing a broad array of information to biomedical scientists and clinicians.

Imaging science is the new discipline that connects discoveries in the basic sciences and engineering to applications in biology and medicine. The new technologies build on advances in other fields such as molecular biology and proteomics, and have enormous potential to improve clinical care and to make important contributions to medical research.

Over the last few years, a compendium of powerful imaging techniques has been developed, not only for clinical medicine but also for basic research. Imaging today plays a central role in patient management and care. Radiological imaging methods such as X-rays and nuclear imaging, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy (MRI, MRS), positron emission tomography (PET) and ultrasound imaging are essential for the diagnosis of numerous disorders, for providing crucial insights into the pathophysiology of many types of disease, and for obtaining measures of the response of patients to treatments.

In vivo imaging methods also have widespread applications in research, for the elucidation of biological structure and in the study of fundamental biochemical, molecular and physiological processes. Imaging can be used in many different ways: to assess tissue structure and for quantitative morphometry, such as measuring the growth or regression of tumors; to measure intrinsic tissue characteristics and composition, such as tumor cell density or neural myelination; to map various metabolic and physiological properties, such as blood flow or oxygen use; and to detect and quantify fundamental processes at the molecular and cellular levels, such as the expression of specific genes.

Much of imaging research today is aimed at the development of biomarkers in order to be able to derive information on specific biological processes or responses to treatment. For example, in patients with cancer, imaging-based biomarkers such as measurements of tumor vascular properties may be used to predict early in the course of the disease whether a particular treatment regimen will be successful.

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