Imaging the Future
We are full-time undergraduate science majors enrolled at Arizona State University in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. In the laboratory of Dr. Lara Ferry, we conduct our own independent research projects using cutting-edge visualization tools to help us to identify novel or abnormal bones, muscles, or other tissue complexes. Our research uses very small vertebrates (fishes) the size of a finger, such as this fish shown below capturing a smaller food fish. This event is captured using high speed video recording at 500 frames per second in order to visualize an event that is otherwise nearly undetectable to the naked eye.
In order to understand what is happening here, we need visualization tools that can see structures that incredibly small, beneath the skin that is apparent here. We are using microMRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and microCT (computed tomagraphy) to address this need. With these tools, we can visualize the small and complex anatomical structures underlying the skin without harm to the specimen (non-destructively). Below is a fish whose skeleton has been visualized using microCT.
How it works:
A CT scan, such as the one shown here, works the same on fish as it does on you or I should we need such a scan as part of our medical care (on the right is a stack of brain images from a medical CT). A CT scan is basically a series of X-ray images stacked up on one another to recreate a three-dimensional image of the subject. The quality of the resultant image depends upon how many slices, or different X-ray layers, are taken through the specimen. The number of layers is directly proportional to the time, and the cost, of the image acquisition. More layers means a higher resolution image but at the cost of more time and more money. What makes our scanning more unique is that it is 'micro', meaning it can focus on very small areas of interest. This, however, requires very high resolution, and therefore lots of time.
A MRI is similar in concept but uses magnetic waves to create the image instead of X-rays. This is useful for softer tissues, like muscle or brain, in contrast to CT which is useful on harder, denser tissues such as bone. On the left, above, is a still image of one layer of the soft tissue in a fish head. The tip of the snout is pointing up. On the right is a video loop of an MRI of a human brain (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).
Why this technology?
With this approach we are making incredible advances in our ability to understand and to diagnose function. We can identify and describe in new and vivid detail abnormalities as well as novelties. We can determine functional consequences of these structures like never before. We can do all of this in a non-destructive manner, meaning it can be used on live animals, or delicate museum specimens that have been previously unstudied. Ultimately we are gaining new and exciting information and taking our understanding deeper than ever before.
We often use fishes as a study subject because they are incredibly interesting and complex. Fishes are the oldest of the vertebrates, and the most diverse. Fishes have over 100 separate bones in their heads and dozens of mobile elements. Humans have one mobile element, the lower jaw. Depsite these differences, fishes and humans are both vertebrates, meaning they share the same evolutionary origins and are remarkably similar in structural composition (bone, muscle, etc.). What we learn from fishes using these tools has direct applicability to humans.
You can learn more about the kinds of work we do at our lab website: http://morphology.asu.edu/
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Make an Impact
$25 can fund a student for half an hour on the MRI or CT equipment. Most scans take anywhere from 2 to 12 hours. Every little bit counts for students. This is a worthy contribution that will make a meaningful difference for students who are at the cutting edge. We will recognize your contributions on our lab website.
$100 can fund a student for an hour or more on the MRI or CT equipment. While most scans take anywhere from 2 to 12 hours, a student could possibly complete a small project with this amount. A small completed project means a student will be able to present the results at a regional or national meeting and receive feedback from peers from other institutions. This valuable experience often has a huge positive impact on medical and graduate school applications. We will recognize your contributions on our lab website.
$200 can fund a student for up to two hours on the MRI or CT equipment. A student can complete a study of smaller size or scope with this amount of imaging time. Such a project will definitely be presented at a regional or national meeting, and may lead to a student-authored publication containing these results, or combinations of results from other smaller studies. Such publication experience is invaluable to students entering professional or graduate school, and is a known correlate with in student success in professional or graduate school. We will recognize your contributions on our lab website.
$1000 can fund a student for up to ten hours on the MRI or CT equipment. A student can complete a study of nearly any size or scope with this contribution. A study of this scope would certainly lead to presentations at national or international meetings and publication-quality research products. We will recognize your contributions on our lab website. You would be acknowledged directly as a sponsor in the presentation and publication.