I designing MR compatible devices to creating algorithms


I was first introduced to magnetic resonance (MR) imaging research during a summer
internship at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and quickly recognized its potential to
noninvasively image tissue structure and function. I found this characteristic compelling because
it makes MR imaging an efficient diagnostic tool, as well as a safe method to monitor drug
treatments. Since the internship, I have had the opportunity to work on projects ranging from
designing MR compatible devices to creating algorithms for image analysis. These experiences
allowed me to see how further research could improve the application of MR imaging in clinical
practice. I was excited by the prospect of being able to address challenging problems in MR
research through an interdisciplinary understanding of imaging physics and biological processes.
My purpose in undertaking graduate study through Yale University’s biomedical engineering
program is to improve my skills and knowledge of MR imaging through the development and
validation of novel quantitative MR techniques.
During the summer of 2015 I interned at the NIH in Dr. Daniel Reich’s lab, studying
perfusion imaging in patients with multiple sclerosis using DSC-DCE sequences. We
hypothesized that DSC-DCE MRI may help elucidate information about the vascular
pathophysiological changes in brain lesions over time. From analyzing the data, we found a
subset of visually non-enhancing lesions with non-zero k-trans values, suggesting that these
lesions may still be active even though there was a lack of visible T1-enhancement. This project
gave me the unique opportunity to work with patient data, allowing me to learn how to conduct
research that is motivated by clinically relevant questions. It helped me realize that quantitative
MR imaging is a powerful technology that has the potential to noninvasively provide information
about pathological changes in the body. This sparked my interest not only in the field of MR, but
also in pursuing translational research.
Upon returning to UC Berkeley, I was able to explore my growing fascination with MR
research by working on my senior engineering capstone project, where I was able to address
biological questions with engineering solutions. DENSE-MRI is a technique that images
myocardial displacement (strain), a diagnostic measure of the contractility and viability of the
heart. However, there is no gold standard method to verify DENSE-MRI results. To address this
issue, I worked with Dr. Mark Ratcliffe from UCSF to construct an MR compatible, dynamic
cardiac phantom that would produce consistent and reproducible strain measurements. While
working on this project, I was able to apply the theoretical skills I had gained as a bioengineer in
a practical, real world setting. For example, I used my bioinstrumentation knowledge to design
the circuit that drives the actuator, my familiarity with material science to test different phantom
gels, and my experience with CAD software to model the frame that held the entire system. After
spending hours brainstorming, building, and testing, we were successfully able to build a
working dynamic heart phantom that is now being tested in the MR scanner. This project, which
was the first time I had worked on a device from its inception to completion, enabled me to see
the application of engineering concepts within MR research. A career in biomedical research would allow me to contribute to projects focused on
technical development and preclinical studies. My experiences at the NIH and UCSF have
helped me recognize that I want to work on issues in biomedicine, because I am passionate about
advancing healthcare research, therapy, and diagnosis. I would also like to apply engineering
principles to design innovative solutions. MR research, specifically pulse sequence development,
is an ideal combination of these interests. As a graduate student doing MR research, I would like
to develop and validate new quantitative imaging techniques that can help clinicians better
understand disease progression and improve diagnostics. I would like to test these sequences in
phantoms and animal models, and eventually translate them into clinical studies in patients.
Through designing MR pulse sequences, I hope to grow as a researcher, while still being able to
apply the physics, image processing, and programming skills I have gained from my previous
experiences.
My research interests are well aligned with the work of many of the faculty members I
have spoken with at the Magnetic Resonance Research Center (MRRC), like Drs. Gigi Galiana,
Dana Peters, and Fahmeed Hyder. Dr. Galiana’s development of parallel imaging techniques to
reduce iMQC sequence acquisition times, and Dr. Peters’ improvement of T1-mapping in left
ventricular myocardial scar, are a few of the many aspects of their research that interest me. I am
equally intrigued by Dr. Hyder’s work on designing calibrated fMRI methods that can be used to
extract data about basal metabolism. These professors provide their students with the unique
opportunity to work closely with a range of professionals including radiologists, physicians, and
engineers, which I find particularly appealing. Moreover, the current projects they are involved
in all target my specific interest in developing translational imaging technologies.
I hope to use my graduate degree to achieve my long-term goal of working as a scientist
in research and development. Ideally, I would collaborate with both physicians and engineers, to
ensure that I am creating the most clinically applicable devices. A graduate education in MR
research would provide me with an in-depth knowledge of MR and a broad skillset, both of
which are necessary for me to succeed in any research environment. In addition, the
multidisciplinary nature of Yale’s bioengineering curriculum, and the conjunction of the
department with Yale’s School of Medicine would enable me to identify pressing clinical needs
and design creative engineering solutions. It would train me to have both a medical and technical
understanding of problems, and communicate effectively with physicians, researchers and
technicians. Overall, Yale’s biomedical engineering program would provide me with the tools
and training I need to make significant contributions to bioimaging research. I look forward to
visiting the campus, and meeting the faculty.

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Hi!
I'm William!

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