National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health
NCRR Reporter
Current IssuePast IssuesSubscribe

Download Entire Issue (PDF): 1.9MB Summer 2008  •  Vol. XXXII, No. 2



CTSAs In Focus

  • Critical Resources

The Operating Room of the Future

Science Advances

Funding Matters

News from NCRR

Critical Resources

The Operating Room of the Future

Advanced imaging technologies are transforming therapy.
By Laura Bonetta

When you visit a hospital today, the most low-tech place is the operating room," says Ferenc Jolesz, director of the National Center for Image-Guided Therapy (NCIGT) at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. "Advanced technologies are available for diagnosis but not for therapy. That is at the heart of what we are trying to do."

Prototype illustration

The NCRR-supported National Center for Image-Guided Therapy (NCIGT) at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston will soon unveil the first prototype of its "operating room of the future." This will comprise several imaging systems, a sophisticated surgical table that moves patients between stations, and detailed visual displays to guide a clinician during medical procedures. By developing approaches that incorporate powerful imaging technologies in the operating room, NCIGT researchers will assist clinicians in delivering safer and more effective treatments.

The center is one of 50 NCRR-funded Biomedical Technology Research Resources nationwide, each focused on developing advanced technologies for biomedical research and clinical practice. With co-funding from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, NCIGT serves as a test bed for new imaging technologies and their application in the operating room, where they can assist surgeons in delivering safer and more effective treatments.

"In traditional surgery, the surgeon's vision is limited to the surface," Jolesz says. "With imaging, you can see every layer of tissue without having to cut through the patient." New imaging technologies allow surgeons to "see" where tumors are located, for example, even before starting an operation. Imaging-based approaches also enable new treatment methods that do not require any cutting at all. And imaging methods allow medicines to be delivered to the intended target with greater precision and effectiveness.

NCIGT's accomplishments in the past decade illustrate both the promise and the challenges of bringing advanced technologies from the laboratory to the clinic. They also reveal the key ingredients for making this transition possible: a strong research tradition, teams of basic scientists and physicians focused on translating a research finding to a particular application, and collaborations among different research institutions and between academic researchers and industry.


Twelve of the 50 NCRR-funded Biomedical Technology Research Resources (BTRRs) focus on pursuing cutting-edge development and improvement of methodologies and technologies for imaging and spectroscopy. These technologies are used to study organ structure and function, perfusion, and oxygen extraction and metabolism for the diagnosis, staging, treatment, evaluation, and investigation of diseases and abnormalities. The imaging centers are located in major research-intensive medical centers, providing a nurturing environment for interdisciplinary research and exceptional opportunities to identify proper collaborations to drive the development of technology. This proximity contributes as well to the reduction in translation barriers to clinical applications

BioCurrents Research Center — development of tools to follow the dynamic properties of living cells. Principal Investigator: Peter J.S. Smith, Ph.D.

Center for Advanced Magnetic Resonance Technology at Stanford — development of magnetic MRI techniques in humans and animals. Principal Investigator: Gary H. Glover, Ph.D.

Center for Functional Imaging Technologies — development of neuroimaging techniques in humans. Principal Investigator: Bruce R. Rosen, M.D., Ph.D.

Integrated Center for In Vivo Microscopy — development of techniques for very high-resolution imaging of small animal models. Principal Investigator: G. Allan Johnson, Ph.D.

National Center for Image-Guided Therapy — image-guided therapy. Principal Investigator: Ferenc A. Jolesz, M.D.

National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research — development of tools and techniques for electron microscopy at the cellular level. Principal Investigator: Mark H. Ellisman, Ph.D.

National Center for X-Ray Tomography — X-ray microscopy at the cellular level. Principal Investigator: Carolyn Larabell, Ph.D.

Neuroimage Analysis Center — Understanding the human brain through imaging. Principal Investigator: Ron Kikinis, Ph.D.

NMR Imaging and Localized Spectroscopy — MRI using ultra-high magnetic fields. Principal Investigator: Kamil Ugurbil, Ph.D.

Resource for Magnetic Resonance and Optical Imaging — high-performance computing. Principal Investigator: John S. Leigh, Ph.D.

Resource for Quantitative Functional MRI — development of MRI techniques in humans. Principal Investigator: Peter C.M. van Zijl, Ph.D.

Southwestern NMR Center for In Vivo Metabolism — imaging techniques to understand metabolic changes in humans. Principal Investigator: Craig R. Malloy, M.D.

For more information about these and other technologies supported at BTRRs, visit