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MU brain imaging center provides research for autism, schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease

Recently, the University of Missouri Department of Psychological Sciences introduced an addition to their field of research with the opening of the Brain Imaging Center (BIC). The BIC will allow MU researchers to conduct behavioral research on diseases that can have tremendous impact, including Parkinson's disease, autism, schizophrenia and other neurocognitive disorders using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology.

"The Brain Imaging Center is a state-of-the-art neuroimaging research facility that allows us to propose and conduct neuroimaging research on a scale that has not been possible at the university," said Shawn Christ, assistant professor of psychology in the MU College of Arts and Science.

According to Christ, the BIC will set MU apart from other universities that have restricted access to hospital equipment, and will enhance the school's faculty recruitment, grant funding and breakthrough research.

MRI technology enables researchers to collect behavioral data by producing pictures of the brain. Human brains respond to certain activities by transferring blood to a specific area. The magnetic pulses within the MRI machine attract the blood flow and the machine produces a specific image, which gives researchers insight into how the brain functions and the similarities and differences of various mental activities.

"This center has allowed our department, as well as the broader university research community, to remain at the forefront of research on the diagnosis and study of the causes of neurocognitive disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease," Christ said. "My laboratory recently initiated a grant-funded project that will utilize the MRI in an effort to increase our understanding of the cognitive and neural dysfunction experienced by individuals with autism."

MU is one of the few academic institutions to have this technology available on campus and accessible for all departments and surrounding technological, scientific and pharmaceutical industries.

BIC Director Nelson Cowan is studying language and working memory and will use the MRI to investigate the theory that there are parts of the brain that integrate memories from all sensory modalities. The MU scientist also is studying if there is one central area where all information is kept in the brain.

"Research of this kind is a type of philosophy. You're learning about human consciousness, and the more people understand about the human mind, the better they understand each other," Cowan said.


Contact: Jeffrey Beson
University of Missouri-Columbia

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