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Creating a Vasculature Map to Treat Disease

creating a vasculature map to treat disease

Andrew Dunn, professor of biomedical engineering and the director of the Center for Emerging Imaging Technologies, has received a new National Institutes of Health R01 grant to develop instrumentation and computational technologies that will help researchers understand the effect of type 2 diabetes on the brain's microvasculature.

One of the most common medical complications in patients with type 2 diabetes is peripheral vascular disease, which leads to poor circulation that may cause foot ulcers and other symptoms that affect the limbs. While scientists and physicians are well aware of this complication, there is much less information on how type 2 diabetes affects the blood supply and microvasculature in another part of the body: the brain.

Type 2 diabetes is a risk factor for stroke. While scientists know that progressive neurological effects occur in patients with diabetes, learning about subtle, gradual changes in the brain’s vasculature has been hindered.

Professor Andrew Dunn is combining innovative instrumentation and computational technologies that are poised to break ground in this area. He and his team have received a new National Institutes of Health R01 grant to find out what effects type 2 diabetes has on the blood supply and vasculature in the brain chronically over time.

This $3 million grant will allow Dunn and his team, which includes collaborations with UT Austin faculty members Aaron Baker, an associate professor in biomedical engineering, and Theresa Jones, a professor in psychology, to develop optical microscopy technologies capable of deeper and more efficient imaging of the brain. Researchers will then build a computational system to identify and analyze vasculature.

Vectorization of Deep Microvasculature

Dunn's research team uses imaging technologies with the ability to perform vascular analysis deep within the brain in a live animal model. Here, the colors of the lines indicated depth of vessels over the range of 1.2 to 1.5 millimeters, which is almost twice as deep as typical images.

The overall goal of this research is to build a map that identifies every single vessel in the brain. Building a map would allow researchers to identify how small vessels change structurally over time. Understanding these changes would allow researchers to develop therapies and interventions that could help treat disease.

Specifically, Dunn’s team is imaging a volume of tissue equal in size to a couple of grains of rice. This volume, which seems small, actually contains a significant amount of vasculature. Within a one-millimeter cube, which is about the size of the short side of a grain of rice, contains vasculature that measures up to a meter long.

“We’re interested in seeing what’s happening at this small scale and imaging these tightly woven bundles of vasculature because so many early changes in type 2 diabetes are occurring on single strands of vessels,” says Dunn.

Researchers previously haven’t had the capabilities to image vasculature this small and densely packed. Both the instrumentation and computational capabilities of this project are notable. While other labs are producing large-scale maps, Dunn’s is the only one with the ability to image repeatedly over time, using a live model. His lab is also one of only a few to be imaging the brain at this depth.