Images of a Healthier Future

In June 2014, when the mammoth, 42-ton, 7 Tesla Whole Body Scanner was lowered carefully by crane into the UI’s new $126 million Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building (PBDB), it was big news. Researchers at the Iowa Institute of Biomedical Imaging (IIBI), which occupies most of PBDB’s lower two floors, will use the 7 Tesla scanner and other sophisticated imaging equipment to find answers to some of biomedicine’s biggest questions by examining their smallest details.

IIBI was founded in 2007 to foster interdisciplinary, cross-campus research, education, and discovery in biomedical imaging. The Institute involves faculty and students from multiple UI colleges, including Engineering, Medicine, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and other UI health colleges.

According to IIBI Director Milan

graduate and post-doctoral students. In addition to its 7 Tesla MR scanner – one of only about 20 in the U.S. – Sonka says IIBI is unique in assembling what may be the largest group of interdisciplinary medical imaging faculty in the country.

“Bringing together collaborators on dissimilar projects in a single location yields a much deeper mutual understanding than would otherwise be possible,” he explains. “For our engineering students and faculty, interacting directly with physicians is critical to understanding the underlying healthcare questions. Equally important for research physicians is to understand what is technologically easy, what is too difficult, and what is worth exploring further despite the risks and challenges, since the potential payback is so important.”

Sonka credits former UI Engineering dean and current UI Provost Barry Butler, along with Paul Rothman, former dean of UI Carver College of Medicine, for championing the IIBI vision and current UI Engineering and Medicine deans Alec Scranton and Deborah Schwinn for continuing IIBI support. He is quick to add that scores of IIBI faculty spent hundreds of hours with architects and planners to guide the new facility’s design. “IIBI is truly the result of a ‘village’ of collaborators,” he says.

The Institute’s 30,000 square feet within PBDB is IIBI’s first real home. The sleek, ultra-modern space includes offices and meeting rooms, student work areas, and subject examination rooms, in addition to areas exclusively devoted to advanced, translational research using human, as well as, large- and small-animal imaging suites.

“Our research is highly multidisciplinary and very broad,” Sonka says, “from disease-specific research focusing on the heart, vasculature, lungs, eye, brain, and musculoskeletal system, to combining imaging with genetics and electronic patient records to someday predict disease progression and treatment outcomes, as well as contribute to personalized, patient-specific, patient-optimized treatments.” That’s a vision worth imagining.