"I have a long-standing background in magnetic resonance imaging, which plays a big role in the search for effective treatments for neurodegenerative diseases," says Michael Weiner, MD, Director of the Centerfor Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases (CIND) at the San Francisco VAMedical Center and a pioneer in non-invasive brain imaging. His work involves many neurological disorders commonly seen in Veterans, including traumatic brain injury, PTSD, depression, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Gulf War illness, Lou Gehrig's disease, and epilepsy.
Dr. Weiner, who is also a Professor of Radiology, Medicine, Psychiatry, and Neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, is the primary principal investigator for the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), a $140,000,000 multi-year clinical trial involving more than a thousand patients at 55 centers in the United States and Canada. Its purpose is to establish physical biomarkers for the progression of Alzheimer's disease based on markers in the brain, spinal fluid, and blood. Currently, Alzheimer's progression is determined through clinical measures such as activities of daily living or tests of memory and cognition. "The problem is that these tests have a lot of variability from one day to the next," explains Dr. Weiner. "The beauty of biomarkers such as MRI is that they are consistent from day to day, and thus measurable. Has the brain continued to shrink or not, and if so, at what rate? So, as new treatments for Alzheimer's are developed, you could say it's a no-brainer that brain imaging would be useful in clinical trials of those treatments."
Dr. Weiner, a nephrologist by training, first worked with what was then known as nuclear magnetic resonance in 1980 to obtain images of a kidney in a living rat-one of the earliest biological applications of magnetic resonance technology. "Since then, of course, MRI has developed as a huge field," he notes. "I had the extreme good luck to become involved in the field at the very beginning. And of course, NCIRE and the VA have supported our work from the start."
Dr. Weiner stresses that his research group includes not only medical personnel, but physicists and computer scientists, "who are largely focused on developing new ways of obtaining sharper, more detailed images." Thanks to them, he says, "our laboratory is able to make more and better discoveries." In 2006, Dr. Weiner was given the William S. Middleton award, the VA's highest scientific honor.