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3-D without the glasses. CT scans, MRIs, and ultrasound images have transformed medicine, producing high-quality, detailed pictures that allow physicians to see inside the body to diagnose problems and guide surgery and other medical interventions. Although the data gathered is three-dimensional, current technologies produce only two-dimensional images. Physicians must mentally construct a three-dimensional understanding from multiple images as they guide catheters through the heart or perform brain surgery. Understandably, some physicians are more skilled at this than others.

Janusz Konrad, an ENG associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, is working on a new technology to allow doctors to see lifelike full-color, three-dimensional images derived from data from current medical imaging technologies. Called automultiscopic display, the technology combines sophisticated data processing with enhanced hardware. In some ways automultiscopic display updates and refines the concepts underlying the red/blue, polarizing, or liquid crystal shuttered glasses of early 3-D movies ó presenting different images to each eye, which the brain interprets as a three-dimensional image. Automultiscopic display, however, incorporates the glasses into the LCD or plasma screen rather than putting them on the viewers.

But unlike in early 3-D films, viewers can move in front of the display to see the image from different angles, much as they see an actual object as they move around it. Also, several people can view the object at the same time, each from his or her individual sight line.

Supported by a 2005 SPRInG grant from the Office of the Provost, Konrad will be developing new medical applications of automultiscopic 3-D imaging in collaboration with several researchers, among them cardiologists at Massachusetts General Hospital working on MRI/CT-guided cardiac procedures to treat atrial fibrillation, a rapid, irregular beating of the heart that can precede a stroke. He will also be working with Pierre Dupont, an ENG aerospace and mechanical engineering associate professor, who is helping develop image-guided fetal heart surgery, and with David Mountain, an ENG biomedical engineering professor, who studies the structures and mechanisms involved in hearing.

Konrad will also be collaborating with the BU Scientific Computing and Visualization Group on both hardware and software development.

Making the right connection. Nerve cells (neurons) in the developing embryo extend long, threadlike structures called axons, which carry impulses, outward toward synapses, where they meet up with the sensory or motor cells they will ultimately activate in the fully developed organism. To create the proper connections, it is essential that the growth cone, the growing end of the axon, contain specific kinds of messenger RNA (mRNA). MRNAs are copies of the organismís DNA carrying the genetic code necessary to make the proteins that regulate cellular processes. This process is called mRNA localization.

According to James Deshler, a CAS assistant professor of biology, the localization of specific mRNAs to the appropriate synapse is crucial for learning and memory. It is believed also that defects in this process may potentially result in neurodegenerative disease in humans.

With a 2005 Provostís SPRInG award, Deshler will draw upon extensive experience studying mRNA localization in growing frog eggs (oocytes) to discover which mRNAs are localized to axons in mammalian neurons. Deshler will also use REPFIND, a computer program he and colleagues in the Bioinformatics Graduate Program at ENG developed that reliably recognizes mRNA sequences controlling localization.

The researchers hypothesize that the cellular machinery localizing mRNAs to axons of mammalian neurons is similar to that operating in oocytes. They have thus far screened 13,495 human genes using REPFIND and identified about 300 that contain RNA sequences similar to the frog RNA localization signals. They will narrow this number down to between 30 and 50 of the most likely candidates, and do further tests to determine if they are localized to axons.

Deshler will work with biology faculty Dean Tolan, a professor, and Paul Cook, an assistant professor, in the analyses of the neuronal cells. Once the new mRNAs are identified, he will collaborate with members of the chemistry department to develop and test novel small-molecules that may ultimately be able to modulate the process and change the course of some neurogenerative diseases in humans.

"Research Briefs" is written by Joan Schwartz in the Office of the Provost. To read more about BU research, visit


15 May 2003
Boston University
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