We strive to understand fundamental relationships between function and structure in living tissues, primarily neural tissue and extracellular matrix (ECM). Specifically, we are interested in how microstructure, hierarchical organization, composition, and material properties all affect biological function and dysfunction. We investigate biological and physical model systems, such as, “engineered” tissue constructs, and tissue analogs, at different time and length scales, making physical measurements in tandem with developing mathematical and computational models to design these experiments and interpret their findings. Primarily, we use water molecules to probe both equilibrium and dynamic interactions among tissue constituents over a wide range of time and length scales. At macroscopic length scales we vary water content or ionic composition to determine the equilibrium osmo-mechanical properties of well-defined model systems. To probe tissue microstructure and microdynamics, we employ atomic force microscopy (AFM), small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), small-angle neutron scattering (SANS), static light scattering (SLS), dynamic light scattering (DLS), and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) relaxometry and diffusometry. We also develop and use physics and engineering principles to understand how observed changes in tissue microstructure and physical properties affect transport of mass, charge, momentum, and magnetization. The most direct noninvasive in vivo method for characterizing these essential transport processes in tissues is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which we use to follow microstructural changes in development, degeneration, aging, and trauma. A goal of our basic tissue sciences research is to translate our quantitative methodologies and the understanding we glean from them from "bench to bedside."
Our tissue sciences activities above dovetail with our basic and applied research in quantitative imaging, which is intended to generate in vivo measurements and maps of intrinsic physical quantities, including magnetization, diffusivity, relaxivity, and exchange rates, rather than qualitative images used in clinical radiology. Our quantitative imaging group uses knowledge of physics, engineering, applied mathematics, imaging and computer sciences, and insights gleaned from our tissue sciences research, to discover and develop novel imaging "stains" or "contrasts" that can sensitively and specifically detect changes in tissue composition, microstructure, or microdynamics. Our ultimate goal is to use these as quantitative imaging biomarkers to assess normal and abnormal development, diagnose childhood diseases and disorders, and characterize degeneration and trauma. MRI is our imaging method of choice because it is well suited to many NICHD–mission critical applications: it is non-invasive, non-ionizing, generally requires no exogenous contrast agents or dyes, and is deemed safe for use with pregnant mothers and their developing fetuses, and with children in both clinical and research settings.
One of our technical objectives has been to turn clinical MRI scanners into quantitative scientific instruments capable of producing reproducible, accurate, and precise imaging data and to be able to measure and map useful imaging biomarkers for pre-clinical and clinical applications, including for single scans, longitudinal, and multi-center studies, for personalized medicine, and for populating imaging databases with high-quality normative data.
Video (George Mason University Bioengineering Seminar Series): “What can we learn about nervous system structure and function using porous media MR?” (February 28, 2019)
Video (Zilkha Seminar Series, Keck School of Medicine of USC): “Probing Tissue Structure and Dynamics using MRI” (March 13, 2019)
Video (Johns Hopkins University webcast): “Characterizing brain microstructure, architecture and organization with diffusion MRI” (February 4, 2014)
Press Release: Neurons absorb and release water when firing, NIH study suggests. (September 13, 2018)
Video (NIH Videocast): NICHD Advisory Council Meeting - September 2018 (Dr. Basser is featured at 2:39:19)
Drs. Basser and Tasaki featured in: Fox, D. (2018). Brain Cells Communicate with Mechanical Pulses, Not Electric Signals. Scientific American, (Volume 318, Issue 4), pp.61-67.
Video (YouTube): Dr. Basser featured in "Research for a Lifetime: The Journey Forward" to commemorate NICHD's 50th anniversary
BRAIN Initiative: Bridging Gaps in Neuro Knowledge (NIH Catalyst, Volume 25 Issue 6, November–December 2017)
Video (NIH Videocast): "Measuring the latency connectome" (34:00) – Plenary talk, 2017 NIH Research Festival (September 13, 2017)
Video (YouTube): "The Invention and Development of Diffusion Tensor NMR and MRI at the NIH", recorded at a conference hosted by Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC), January 31 – February 1, 2017
Dr. Derek Jones, Former NIH Mentee, Directs Brain Imaging Center in Wales (NIH Record, July 1, 2016)
Trainee Chinedu Anyaeji selected to participate in the NICHD Scholars Program (The Catalyst, Volume 19, Issue 6, November-December 2011)
"Twitchy Nerves (Literally) May Explain Epilepsy, Pain" on NPR's Morning Edition (October 5, 2010)
Peter Basser, Ph.D., head of the NICHD Section on Quantitative Imaging and Tissue Sciences, has been made an honorary member of the American Society of Neuroradiology, an organization of more than 5,600 neuroradiologists and related professionals.
Basser is a scientist-inventor whose work has transformed how neurological disorders and diseases are diagnosed and treated, and how brain architecture, organization, structure, and anatomical “connectivity” are studied and visualized. He is the principal inventor of Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging (DTI), a non-invasive MRI technology that yields a family of novel features and imaging biomarkers. Quantities that he proposed include the mean apparent diffusion coefficient (mADC) — a DTI-derived parameter widely used to follow changes in stroke and in cancers, and the fractional anisotropy (FA), a robust quantity that makes brain white matter visible. He also proposed and developed “Streamline Tractography,” a means to elaborate white matter pathways, which now helps neuroradiologists plan brain surgeries. More recently, Basser has been a pioneer in the field of “Microstructure Imaging,” which uses MRI data and models of water diffusion in tissue to extract salient micron-scale morphological features. Examples of MRI methods that Basser invented and developed with colleagues include the non-invasive measurement of the mean axon diameter (CHARMED), the axon diameter distribution (AxCaliber), and the mean apparent propagator (MAP) in each voxel. He and members of his lab have also been actively involved in developing multiple pulsed-field gradient (mPFG) methods to measure microscopic diffusion anisotropy, which they reported observing in gray matter as early as 2007. Within the past few years, Basser’s lab has continued to make seminal contributions to neuroradiology, inventing and developing MRI methods to measure and map joint relaxation and diffusion spectra in brain tissue.
Dr. Peter Basser inducted into the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) College of Fellows for his seminal contributions to the invention, development, and translation of diffusion tensor MRI (DTI), DTI tractography, and several neuro-technologies. (click below image to enlarge)
- Kudos from the Deputy Director of Intramural Research: http://ddir.nih.gov/back18/ddir_1805.pdf
Dr. Basser et al. honored as the author of one of ISMRM's 30 most influential MRM papers at ISMRM 2014 in Milan, Italy. Photos here: https://twitter.com/alex_leemans/status/466644304342306816
Drs. Peter Basser, Denis LeBihan, and Carlo Pierpaoli receive the Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer at the 2013 FLC Mid-Atlantic Regional Meeting in Leesburg, VA (page 8 in PDF).
Smith, C. (2002) NIH commercializes new imaging technique. Nature Medicine 8(9): 906.