The lung is a dynamic organ system with a complex internal structure that undergoes large non-linear deformations during normal breathing, and involves multiple distinct subsystems that change over time in response to normal aging and disease processes. This makes the lung an extremely difficult organ system to study experimentally. The development of medical imaging has enabled researchers to study the complex internal structure and function of the lung in vivo and in three-dimensions. Despite the numerous advances in medical imaging research that has propelled imaging into the forefront of diagnosis and characterization of many conditions, imaging is still not routinely used for clinical investigations of the lung. This is driven by the fact that few analytic tools exist that generate validated imaging features, or biomarkers, that capture the underlying structural complexity of the lung, the inter-relationship between these complex structures, and the interaction between structure and function. The focus of our lab is the development and validation of novel image analytic tools that interrogate and quantify pulmonary structural and functional relationships.

Quantitative Computed Tomography (CT) Imaging: CT imaging can provide a way to regionally quantify the heterogeneous structural abnormalities in the lung. Quantitative measurements of the overall extent of the structural abnormalities in the lung have been developed and validated, including measurements of the low attenuation areas (i.e., emphysema) and airway wall dimensions. The wall dimensions of the small airways, however, cannot be directly visualized due to resolution limitations and therefore new approaches to indirectly assess the functional effects of the small airways, such as the disease probability measure (DPM) described by our group.  Using this approach, each voxel in the lung is classified by disease state (normal, emphysema or small airway disease).  Our research objective is to develop novel image analytic tools that interrogate and quantify pulmonary CT spatial and temporal inter-relationships.

Quantitative Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): While CT provides structural information, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with inhaled hyperpolarized noble gas provides functional pulmonary information. We have also developed MRI biomarkers for quantifying ventilation distribution in the lung, and clinically validated these biomarkers in patients with pulmonary diseases.   Furthermore, MRI with inhaled 129Xe gas is a very promising imaging technique for assessing pulmonary vascular abnormalities.  MRI with inhaled hyperpolarized gases therefore provides an unprecedented opportunity to obtain functional information related to pulmonary ventilation and perfusion. Our research objective is to develop novel CT-MRI structural-functional image analytic tools.