VISION PLUS COLLABORATION

Elfar Adalsteinsson wants others to succeed – his undergrad and PhD students, post-doctoral and M+Visión fellows in Spain, MIT colleagues, hospital and clinical partners, medical equipment manufacturers and, ultimately, it would seem, anyone seeking his expertise. As a Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and Health Sciences and Technology (HST), Associate Director of Madrid-MIT M+Visión Consortium, and Core Faculty of the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), he’s a magnet for visionary collaborations.

“There are multiple layers of collaborative work. And Boston is a great source of opportunities…. We are pursuing medical problems that inherently require more than one type of expertise to address,” he says.

Adalsteinsson’s research in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) connects him with two vital experts from the MGH/HST Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging in Charlestown: Director Bruce Rosen, MD, PhD, and Researcher Larry Wald, PhD. With the center’s outstanding array of technology and insights, Adalsteinsson says his team can best exploit, manipulate, analyze and improve MRI as a tool for clinical diagnosis and discovery.

“We build enabling technology with clinicians and scientists, the users of MRI,” says Adalsteinsson. “We find and address the fundamental problems and limiting aspects of the technique today.”

His work with the Martinos Center and Siemens Medical Solutions has born professional demonstrations that could reengineer parallel RF (radio frequency) transmit design. In practical terms, this could lower rates of electromagnetic energy absorption and time spent in that noisy cylinder bed – so important to many patient populations, from the elderly to vulnerable neonates and fetuses.

“With Dr. Ellen Grant¹ at Boston Children’s Hospital, the goal of our collaboration is to bring the inferior imaging quality of the fetus closer to the quality we can do for adults,” says Adalsteinsson. “The fetus moves unpredictably. The smaller physical structure is also surrounded by the mother, which is a further complication…. We have a significant effort underway addressing all these factors.”

Since MRI is only used in pregnancy when ultrasound indicates a pressing abnormality, Adalsteinsson’s research could help deliver clearer images and better answers.

“The MRI imaging modality has this phenomenal flexibility. The type of information we can collect is broader than just seeing the circumference of the head, or the length of a bone. It’s a rich modality where you pick up other metrics.”

Beyond conventional structural MRI, Adalsteinsson actively researches blood oxygenation imagining, an innovative approach to marking brain health. He worked with Div Bolar MD, PhD, and Audrey Peiwen Fan, PhD (then grad students, now alumni) to introduce two methodologies – QUIXOTIC (Quantitative Imaging of eXtraction of Oxygen and TIssue Consumption) and PROM (Phase-Based Regional Oxygen Metabolism) – which bend the function of MRI to serve in new, illuminating ways.

“MIT students were selected from a refined set to begin with, so they’re all amazing,” he says. “An important component of IMES is training students, helping them grow. So to see just how people’s strengths materialize – that’s the surprise.”

Believing strongly in supporting young researchers, Adalsteinsson also helped create an international fellows program within the Madrid-MIT M+Visión Consortium based in Madrid, Spain, called the M+Visión Catalyst program.

“M+Visión began with an innocent-sounding phone call from (MIT Professor) Martha Gray about establishing a program between Spain and MIT roughly to do with imaging — and it snowballed from there,” he says. “That was a great phone call with great consequences.”

Now in its fifth year, the M+Visión program accepts 10 post-doctoral or post-MD fellows in each cohort to engage in self-generated, intensive research teams overseas. The concept is to accelerate innovative solutions by placing no preconceived notions or pressures on what these brilliant minds can pursue. Adalsteinsson calls it a “cool, intellectually engaging” program that keeps his “creative juices flowing.”

It’s the “nature of collaboration – experts engaging, working together, coming at the same problem but from a different angle and moving it forward to impact human health” that energizes him still. As well as the patients and families who have made an “undeniable impact.”

“They leave a lasting impression, no doubt about it…If I didn’t believe what we do is important, I wouldn’t do it.”

¹ MD, Director of the Fetal-Neonatal Neuroimaging and Developmental Science Center at Boston Children’s Hospital