MIT Reports to the President 1994-95

Vice President and Dean for Research


The Whitaker College of Health Sciences and Technology (Whitaker College) is a major interdisciplinary academic and research entity at MIT. Several areas of research and teaching that are pertinent to health, both fundamental and applied, have been developed and been incorporated into Whitaker College.

Current activities in the Whitaker College include the Harvard/MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, the Clinical Research Center, the Division of Toxicology, the Center for Environmental Health Sciences, and Biomedical Imaging and Computation. In the January of 1995, the Center for Biomedical Engineering was established under the direction of Professor Douglas Lauffenburger.

We report here on the events and new initiatives of programs that operate within the College core. The activities of the above departments and centers are reported separately.


Research in imaging and computer simulation takes place in the Whitaker College Biomedical Imaging and Computation Laboratory (WCBICL). In addition to providing a site for the faculty and research staff associated with this effort, the goal of the laboratory is to encourage faculty, research staff and students in relevant departments to collaborate on basic research in imaging technologies and display methods and in simulating and understanding the interaction of radiation of different types with tissue and bone.

The resources of the laboratory currently include seven SUN Microsystems workstations, two Silicon Graphics workstations, two PCs, and two Macintosh computers. All are directly connected to the MIT Campus Network. A variety of peripheral devices are also available.

Under the direction of Professor Jacquelyn Yanch of the Nuclear Engineering Department, the main research focus in the WCBICL over the past year has been in the area of computer simulation of the interaction of radiation with a variety of materials. A number of different projects are underway in this area, all of which have as their ultimate goal the development and improvement of the medical uses of radiation. Projects include the study of beta-particle dosimetry in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, the development and testing of an accelerator-based source of neutrons for use in cancer therapy and modeling of a miniature X-ray source for use in interstitial radiotherapy of brain tumors.

One of the most exciting new research areas dealing with the design of radiation therapy has been the development of a new method of treating rheumatoid arthritis using neutrons and boron-loaded pharmaceuticals. This new method has been called "Boron Neutron Capture Synovectomy" by Professor Yanch. Her collaborators in this area include Dr. Alan Davison from the Department of Chemistry and researchers at the Harvard Medical School. Appropriate neutron beams, suitable for patient treatment, are currently being designed using the computation resources of WCBICL.

A second research thrust in the WCBICL is in the are of image analysis and image analysis and image diagnosis. Areas of major interest over the past year include the automated analysis of mammograms, algorithms for detection of shape irregularities in images of synaptic vesicles, and the development of new methods of real-time three-dimensional image display. One project dealing with the simulation of gamma photons in Nuclear Medicine imaging is able to link the two major research areas (imaging and radiation transport simulation) in the lab. A recent collaboration with Dr. Elizabeth Selcow of Brookhaven National Laboratory also spans both research areas of the lab.

For 1994 and 1995 three international visitors spent several months at WCBICL conducting research in the area of image analysis. Dr. Michael Grunkin, from the Technical University of Denmark, collaborated with WCBICL scientists in the investigation of density and structural changes in bone as a function of age using imaging methods to quantify these parameters. Dr. Ainat Rogel, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is working on automated neuroanatomical image acquisition and analysis. Dr. Stefano Cagnoni (University of Florence, Italy), visiting WCBICL on an international fellowship, developed new methods of contour identification using genetic algorithms.

A multi-layer page on the World Wide Web (WWW) in which all the research projects and personnel of the lab are listed has been installed and is currently being modified. The contents of the WWW page will change as research projects proceed and new projects are taken on by individuals in the lab.

The lab currently has 52 registered users consisting of faculty, research staff, graduate students, undergraduate students and visitors from outside MIT who use the resources of the lab remotely. Roughly 30 users are from the Nuclear Engineering Department (NED), 18 are from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) or other parts of the Whitaker College and 14 are from the rest of the MIT community or are remote "visitors."

The WCBICL continues to play an increasing important role in education, particularly with respect to the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology doctoral programs. Many of the students in these programs conduct thesis research in the lab; the lab is also used for teaching and experimentation in both HST and NED. The HST laboratory projects are designed to provide practical experiences in processing physiological data with examples from neurophysiology, cardiology, and two-dimensional imaging analysis. The NED students undertake projects in which they learn the physics of radiation behavior while becoming familiar with one of the four public-domain radiation transport codes available in the lab. Students typically choose to apply their simulation work to research in radiation therapy.

WCBICL also supports a number of undergraduates in their thesis or UROP research. In addition to UROP projects during the last year, two undergraduates theses were carried out in the lab and one high school student with the RSI program completed a one-month research project in the summer.

J. David Litster

MIT Reports to the President 1994-95