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Vol. LXIV, No. 16
August 3, 2012

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NIBIB Celebrates 10 Years of Biomedical Imaging, Bioengineering Innovation

“What you guys have done has changed my life,” Rob Summers told a crowd of more than 200 at the 10th anniversary celebration of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

Summers, one of many distinguished speakers at the recent day-long scientific symposium, shared his personal story of the research that has allowed him to stand up and move his legs after 5 years of paralysis.

He was the first human ever to receive epidural spinal stimulation, leading to recovery of his bowel, bladder and sexual function. Summers credits NIBIB. “I’d like to thank you for your generous funding of Dr. Reggie Edgerton at UCLA and Dr. Susan Harkema at the University of Louisville…[that] allowed me to be independent again, but more than anything, it’s given me my confidence back in who I am.”

From left, Dr. Reggie Edgerton, Rob Summers and Dr. Susan Harkema join NIBIB’s 10th anniversary celebration. DDM guest speaker Daniel Pink is offering a new way of looking at motivation.

From left, Dr. Reggie Edgerton, Rob Summers and Dr. Susan Harkema join NIBIB’s 10th anniversary celebration.

Demonstration of the microsurgery assistant workstation. This new technology uses imaging and “smart” surgical tools to perform complex eye surgeries. The workstation itself is seen below, with the skull on the table under the microscope.

The “technological innovation and scientific discovery” helping Summers “energizes us for the future,” said Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, director of NIBIB, who opened the symposium by focusing on how biomedical imaging and bioengineering have changed in the last decade. He described examples of point-of-care technologies that permit diagnostics at the bedside to detect cancer and imaging advances revealing that human brain circuitry is organized in a grid, like city streets on a map.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins offered his congratulations and described the challenges facing health care today and how technology, translation, talent and investment will have a huge impact on health care in the 21st century. He highlighted NIBIB-funded research, including the neurally controlled robotic arm for individuals who are paralyzed. Using the device, a woman who has been a quadriplegic for 15 years was able to use her thoughts to direct a robotic arm to reach for and sip from a glass.

Collins also cited the collaborative efforts of several federal agencies to develop bio-chips of organs used to identify toxicity and gene expression, in order to speed up and reduce the cost of drug testing and development. He described how NIH must encourage young scientific talent, citing NIBIB’s Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams (DEBUT) Challenge as an example of spurring students on in their desire to pursue careers in science.

MIT professor and Nobel laureate Dr. Phillip Sharp described our current scientific landscape as part of the “third revolution” in biomedical science. The first revolution was the discovery by Watson and Crick of the structure of DNA; the second pertains to innovations in genomics; and the third revolution is convergence science—the merging of the physical and engineering sciences with the life sciences—which will have a profound impact on research and health care.

NIBIB grantee Dr. Roger Tsien’s presentation addressed the value of molecular fluorescence for enhancing image-guided surgery. The Nobel laureate from the University of California, San Diego, commended NIBIB for its support and described how using fluorescence could significantly improve standard surgery, enabling earlier detection of cancer before it spreads to other areas of the body.


“I would point out that if you can catch the tumor early enough to completely cut it out, the result is an immediate cure, and relatively low-cost compared to the lifetime of medication on the wonderful designer drugs that don’t kill the cancer and merely give it time to become resistant,” he said. “And one thing a tumor can never become resistant to is being literally chopped out and dropped in formaldehyde.”

Tsien illustrated the importance of being able to identify nerves when surgically removing tumors and how the inability to do so often results in permanent damage. The new fluorescence technology can allow doctors to avoid damaging vital nerves while removing cancerous lesions.

The anniversary celebration also featured a technology showcase with live demonstrations and exhibits. Featured were nine NIBIB-funded projects, including:

  • A hand-held ultrasound scanner for high-quality images of internal organs and blood flow;
  • The magnetic resonance elastography device that noninvasively visualizes liver tissue damage;
  • Micro needle patches that can deliver influenza vaccine, do not need to be refrigerated and could be administered at home;
  • The micro-fluidic chip that detects rare cancer cells in blood samples;
  • A microsurgery workstation of novel sensors, surgical instruments and robotic devices for improved retinal surgery;
  • A breast model with pressure sensors used to train health practitioners in conducting clinical exams to detect tissue abnormalities;
  • A suite of software for deep brain stimulation therapy that helps surgeons centralize data and visualize activity at all stages and maximizes efficiency;
  • Noninvasive imaging of dynamic brain activity for epilepsy;
  • Image analysis tools that process magnetic resonance images of the human brain to better understand brain health and disease.

The wide variety of speakers coupled with hands-on demonstrations and patient testimonials provided attendees with an overview of NIBIB and the progress it has achieved during its first decade. More information, photos and videos from the event can be found at

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