Auburn University breaks ground for new MRI research center

AUBURN – Auburn University and the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for a new $21 million facility that will house Auburn University’s new Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, Research Center on Thursday, Feb. 4. The facility will be located in the Auburn Research Park on Devall Drive.

The event included remarks by Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, Auburn University President Jay Gogue, Auburn Board of Trustees member Charles McCrary, as well as Jeffrey Bundy, vice president, MRI, for Siemens Healthcare, and Laura Grill, executive vice president and administrator for East Alabama Medical Center.

“The MRI Research Center is a prime example of how state funds can be invested and state educational institutions collaborate with the private sector to develop a world-class research center to advance science and technology, improving quality of life in the global community and promoting economic development for the state of Alabama,” Dean of Engineering Larry Benefield said.

Construction of the 45,000-square-foot facility began in January with a projected completion date in September. It is the second building in the research park. The architect for the project is Perkins +Will, and the construction manager is Brasfield & Gorrie LLC.

Magnetic resonance imaging uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of organs, tissues and the skeletal system. The heart of the MRI machine is a large magnet whose strength is measured in Tesla, or T, and named for electrical engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla.

According to Gogue, the master research agreement signed last year with Siemens will advance Auburn University to the forefront of biomedical engineering and has the potential to bring lifesaving technologies to the citizens of Alabama and the region. Examples of current and potential areas of MRI-related research include brain function, metabolic imaging and pharmaceuticals, as well research into diabetes and heart disease.

The first floor of the new building will house a Siemens Verio open-bore 3T MRI scanner that will be used for both clinical and research use, as well as the nation’s first actively shielded whole-body 7T MRI. There are only 28 7T scanners worldwide. Auburn’s 7T will be one of two located in the southeastern U.S. and will be the only actively shielded unit in the U.S. This unit will be used solely for research. Thomas Denney, Auburn University professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been named director of the new research center.

“Our vision is to become a leading center for MRI research in the southern United States with emphasis on orthopedic imaging and research, coil design and functional MRI,” Denney said. “These areas represent an intersection between the needs of the MRI research community, particularly in 7T imaging, and existing expertise and strengths of Auburn University.” Functional MRI is a specialized type of scan used to provide an image of how the brain functions.

East Alabama Medical Center will lease approximately 3,000 square feet, including the 3T scanner for a clinical imaging operation. This floor will also house offices and waiting rooms, as well as a research laboratory.

The second floor of the building will contain a coil laboratory, office space for faculty and staff associated with the MRI Research Center and a distance-learning-enabled classroom for MRI training. It will also house office space for The Orthopedic Clinic, as well as the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Lab, or USAARL, which will collaborate with Auburn on research on head and spinal injuries.

Third-floor tenants will include EAMC Rehab Works, Auburn’s Department of Kinesiology, The Auburn Spine and Neurosurgery Center with the office of Auburn adjunct professor and neurosurgeon Lee Warren, and Warren Innovation Inc. Warren will be involved with the MRI Research Center and the distance-learning classroom.

“This effort supports Alabama’s goal of becoming known as a key state in advancing the biomedical frontier,” McCrary said. “It sets an example and establishes a precedent on which programs between Auburn University and other institutions, both private and public, can build to strengthen Alabama’s economy and future. We fully expect to see additional partnerships and collaborations grow from these initial efforts.”

More information is available on the Web site, http://www.eng.auburn.edu/fall09mag/taming_tesla.html.

Contacts: Cheryl Cobb, (334) 844-2220 (cobbche@auburn.edu) or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)

Auburn University President Jay Gogue, left, and Gov. Bob Riley look at an artist’s rendering of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI, Research Center that will be constructed in the Auburn Research Park. A ceremony was held Thursday to mark the beginning of construction of the $21 million, 45,000-square-foot facility that is expected to be completed in September. The new facility will house the nation’s first actively shielded, whole-body Siemens 7T MRI scanner for research, as well as a Siemens Verio open-bore 3T MRI scanner that will be used for both clinical and research use. The 7T scanner will allow Auburn and its collaborators to conduct research in areas such as brain function, metabolic imaging, pharmaceuticals, diabetes and heart disease.