First-of-its-kind Imaging Facility to Accelerate Brain Research at UBC

Mr. Brad Bennett, President Santa J. Ono, Dr. Charles E. Fipke, Dr. Haakon Nygard, Dean Dermot Kelleher, Vice-President Heather McCaw, and Dr. Jon Stossel.
Mr. Brad Bennett, President Santa J. Ono, Dr. Charles E. Fipke, Dr. Haakon Nygard, Dean Dermot Kelleher, Vice-President Heather McCaw, and Dr. Jon Stossel.

A new multimillion-dollar brain research facility at the UBC Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health (DMCBH) is now a reality. The ribbon was cut today on the Charles E. Fipke Integrated Neuroimaging Suite a first-of-its-kind facility that will drive critical advancements in neurodegenerative diseases that include Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

“What we will accomplish in this remarkable new facility will be transformational to patients,” says Dermot Kelleher, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Vice-President of Health for UBC. “The Charles E. Fipke Integrated Neuroimaging Suite is a foundational element of our goal as a Faculty of Medicine to accelerate the translation of new discoveries into clinical practice.”

The suite is unique in that it houses Canada’s only simultaneous positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance imaging (PET-MRI) machine dedicated solely to brain-related research. The instrument is also the first General Electric (GE) Healthcare PET-MRI in Canada. The machine will allow scientists to “see” how neurochemistry overlaps with the brain’s energy consumption and how it affects neural connectivity, allowing researchers to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying most — if not all — brain-related illnesses.

Dr. Haakon Nygard and Dr. Charles E. Fipke view equipment in the facility.
Dr. Haakon Nygard and Dr. Charles E. Fipke view equipment in the facility.

“This is an incredible opportunity for clinically oriented researchers to connect more closely with our colleagues in basic science,” says Dr. Jon Stoessl, Co-Director of the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health and Head of the Division of Neurology in the Faculty of Medicine. “To have a PET-MRI that is devoted to brain research alone will enable us to move forward much more rapidly and efficiently.”

The suite is named for the project’s lead donor Charles E. Fipke, who pledged support to acquire the PET MRI technology to further research. Dr. Fipke first supported brain research at UBC in 2011, donating funds to endow the Fipke Professorship in Alzheimer’s Research. Contributions from several private donors combined with investment from Canada Foundation for Innovation were instrumental in completing the infrastructure and equipping it with two instruments — the hybrid PET MRI as well as a first of its kind Philips Elition 3T MRI.

“I would like to thank all of the donors who helped make this extraordinary facility a reality, giving our researchers the very best tools to bring better treatment options to patients,” says UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Santa J. Ono. “I am especially grateful to alumnus Charles Fipke whose commitment to tackle brain diseases like Alzheimer’s inspires us in this important research”.

In addition to its cutting-edge technology, the suite leverages an already strong relationship between TRIUMF, Canada’s premier physics laboratory, and the UBC neuroscience community. Given the proximity of the DMCBH and TRIUMF on campus, a new line was installed underground on Wesbrook Mall to facilitate transfer of radioactive tracers, which are used to provide quantitative information on molecular and cellular processes in the body during PET imaging.

“This line could not have existed if the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health or TRIUMF were located anywhere but where they are on campus,” says Dr. Brian MacVicar, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Co-Director of the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. “These relationships and this unique facility are equipping us with new research capabilities that will benefit British Columbians for decades to come.”