University of Alabama opens MRI research facility

The University of Alabama has opened its new 9,700-square-foot, $10 million MRI research facility, an addition to the university’s medical center. This move is a major step forward in supporting the University’s capacity to undertake research across a range of academic disciplines.

The centerpiece of the addition to the University Medical Center complex at Fifth Avenue and Fourth Street is a state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging machine. The unit is roughly twice as powerful as MRIs commonly used in clinical settings.

Sharlene Newman, executive director of the Alabama Life Research Institute, said, “It has a higher magnetic field strength and is the most widely used type of MRI for research in the world.”

The unit has a 3 Tesla rating, which is a number that describes the strength of the magnetic field that the machine creates. A 3 Tesla machine can work faster at the same resolution as a 1.5 Tesla machine and can produce higher resolution images with less noise so researchers can see more detail.

“Most of the research, at least initially, will be focused on neuroscience. Most of us who use the MRI scanner are currently studying the brain. We have faculty from across campus studying everything from educational neuroscience to substance abuse to autism to aging and dementia ,” Newman said.

October 28, 2022;  Tuscaloosa, AL, USA;  The University of Alabama unveiled its new MRI research facility at the University Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022. Sharlene Newman, executive director of the Alabama Life Research Institute at the University of Alabama, speaks during the opening of the facility.

The university is also adding a new undergraduate major in neuroscience, which Newman said was recently approved by UA administrators.

The new MRI facility also opens the door to studying people from West Alabama, a population group that Newman says is drastically understudied. She said West Alabama children face a range of developmental issues, from lead paint poisoning to environmental stressors. The researchers hope to better understand these challenges with the new MRI device.

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