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Institute for Biodiagnostics

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MicroscopeNRC-IBD; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Calgary, Alberta; and Halifax, Nova Scotia
Medical Diagnostics:

The National Research Council Institute for Biodiagnostics (NRC-IBD) develops medical devices and technologies that will improve the way we diagnose serious medical conditions, such as cancer, stroke, and heart disease. Researchers use a variety of technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy, to non-invasively diagnose diseases earlier and more accurately than the methods that are currently used in hospitals and clinics. Work at NRC-IBD also has a strong focus on biomedical informatics, the analysis and interpretation of the biomedical data generated by the diagnostic technologies used by researchers.

What Does it mean?

Non-invasive refers to a diagnostic or therapeutic procedure that does not require the insertion of instruments, such as hypodermic needles, through the skin or into a body cavity.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic scanning system that uses powerful magnets to produce images of soft tissues in the body. MRI is especially effective for producing images of the brain and spinal cord. The powerful magnet in the scanners causes the nuclear magnetic moments within the atoms of the body to line themselves up in one direction, much like a compass needle aligns itself with the earth's magnetic field. The MRI machine applies a radio frequency pulse, specific only to hydrogen, causing the protons to be excited and de-align. As they realign themselves to the magnet, the protons give off a signal that can be recorded and converted electronically into images.

Researchers at the NRC Institute for Biodiagnostics are looking for better ways to diagnose cancer, stroke, and other neurological conditions using MRI.

Mock Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
Mock Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
The loud noise and confined space of an MRI machine is frightening for many adults, let alone children. So, NRC scientists created and built a mock MRI machine, shown here, to help kids get used to the feeling of the real machine. The mock version includes realistic lights, and a sound system that mimics an MRI machine's loud pulsing. The system is being used to help determine if MRI, which has no known harmful side-effects, can be used to diagnose autism and fetal alcohol syndrome in children.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a relatively new MRI technique that studies brain function. Using fMRI technology, scientists can determine which part of the central nervous system (CNS: brain and spinal cord) is active during a given task by tracking blood oxygen levels in the brain. Brain regions that are active require more oxygen. Oxygen is delivered by increasing the blood flow to these active brain regions. Scientists compare the differences in blood flow between a resting condition and an active condition, such as thinking, seeing, touching, or hearing, to find regions that are associated with one task and not the other.

At NRC-IBD, scientists are using fMRI to study pain, stroke, autism, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), allows scientists and doctors to measure chemicals within the body and brain without removing tissue or blood samples. Because different chemicals resonate at different frequencies (like a tuning fork) when stimulated by a magnet, MRS is able to provide a biochemical fingerprint of various chemical species within the human body. The technique is still largely at the research level.

NRC-IBD researchers are developing a non-invasive test for colorectal cancer using MRS to assess stool samples and identify tumour biomarkers.

Spectroscopy is the science of measuring the emission and absorption of different wavelengths (spectra) of visible and non-visible light. Spectroscopy has traditionally been used in the physical sciences to probe the composition (what is there and how much?) of materials ranging from medicinal ingredients to the stars in the sky. More recently, spectroscopy has been adapted for use in a wide range of biological research areas, such as biochemistry and toxicology, addressing the same fundamental questions for ever more complex samples.

Infrared spectroscopy (IR spectroscopy) uses the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to investigate the composition of a sample. By passing infrared radiation through the sample, and seeing which wavelengths are selectively absorbed by the sample, we build up a "spectrum" of absorptions that serves as a unique chemical fingerprint of the sample.

Scientists at NRC-IBD are using the mid-IR spectroscopic fingerprint of various biological fluids as the basis to perform many common clinical tests, including cardiovascular risk panels, blood tests, and urine tests, opening the door to routine diagnostic testing without the need for any chemical reagents.

Near infrared spectroscopy (near IR) uses the near infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, the "near" meaning that these wavelengths lay very near (in fact adjacent to) the red end of the visible light spectrum. These near IR wavelengths penetrate deep into tissue with no harmful effects. The light that has been transmitted through tissue provides a spectrum (again, a "molecular fingerprint") that may be used to evaluate tissue oxygenation due to differences in absorption properties of hemoglobin and deoxyhemoglobin.

Researchers at NRC-IBD are exploiting near IR spectroscopy and imaging to detect viable tissue beneath a burn, based on spectroscopic measurements of tissue oxygenation and blood volume that occur in the post burn period.

Biomedical Informatics deals with biomedical information, its structure, acquisition, and use. Biomedical informatics comprises the areas of computer science, information science, cognitive science, social science, and engineering, as well as clinical and basic sciences.

At NRC-IBD, researchers develop and adapt state-of-the-art methods for the analysis and monitoring of complex biomedical data.