New GE Partnership to Advance MRI Research

A new partnership between Columbia and GE Healthcare is set to push the boundaries of MRI research and imaging technology.

From left to right: Radiology Dept. Chair Larry Schwartz, Dean Mary C. Boyce, GE CEO Jeff Immelt, and GE Healthcare CEO John Flannery (Photo by Michael DiVito)

The Departments of Biomedical Engineering at the Engineering School and Radiology at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), led by Professors Andrew Laine and Larry Schwartz, have collaborated on a deal with GE to narrow the gap between industry and academia. In this partnership with conglomerate GE, Columbia faculty, students, and researchers will have access to new, state-of-the-art imaging machines on campus and technical support to bring their lab work to industry.

“GE has chosen to put a large investment in translational research, and we are the perfect partner,” says Laine, biomedical engineering department chair, who has a joint appointment in radiology. “We already have a strong set of faculty and researchers with a rich set of strengths in imaging; in neuroscience, oncology, and cardiovascular diseases; and in big data—many assets GE can tap into.”

Chaitanya Divgi, professor of radiology at CUMC and director of the PET Center, worked closely with Laine on the GE pact. He adds, “This new endeavor will facilitate a comprehensive collaboration involving scientists at CUMC, at the Engineering School, and at GE. This new partnership gives all of us the ability to accelerate noninvasive imaging translation from proof of concept through initial human application and ultimately implementation and utilization.”

As part of the collaboration, GE is providing the University and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital with 18 new, state-of-the-art MRI systems. MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, produces high-resolution images of organs and structures in the body that can display findings (tumors, abnormal tissue structure, bleeding) not detected by other widely used imaging methods like X-ray or ultrasound. Part of the GE partnership also will provide the University with six full-time dedicated technicians who will work with Columbia engineers and clinicians, and a dedicated 3 Tesla (3T) MRI machine, with a more sophisticated system that provides advanced and clearer functional images particularly beneficial when scanning the brain, spine, heart, and musculoskeletal system.

Panelists discussed advances in imaging on December 4, 2015, marking the official signing of the Columbia-GE partnership. (Photo by Michael DiVito)

The Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute (MBBI) at Columbia also will be involved with GE as it continues its critical work in advancing brain-imaging techniques. J. Thomas Vaughan, a world expert in ultrahigh field MRI techniques and technology, joins Columbia this year as University-wide Director of Magnetic Resonance Research—a new position established between MBBI, CUMC, and Columbia Engineering to focus on neurological imaging and clinical translation research. Vaughan will also hold joint appointments in biomedical engineering at the Engineering School and in radiology at CUMC.

In many ways, this new deal with GE is a natural extension of an already-thriving collaboration between the Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Radiology. Several Engineering faculty who specialize in imaging have joint appointments in radiology and have ongoing research projects across departments.

“This major academic-industrial partnership is giving us a big boost at a very exciting time for MRI technology,” says Laine. “We’re looking forward to bringing the innovation of our faculty to bear on existing challenges in clinical translation and imaging science. We believe this can best be accomplished through this exciting GE and Columbia partnership.”

—by Melanie A. Farmer