Registration is still open for the UHF-MR Symposium, which will explore the clinical needs, research promises and technical solutions of powerful imaging technologies. Adapting to the coronavirus pandemic, the symposium will offer both in-person attendance with physical distancing and online participation via Zoom.
“As far as I can see, there are only pros,” says Prof. Thoralf Niendorf, who heads MDC’s Berlin Ultrahigh Field Facility (B.U.F.F.) and is the lead conference organizer. “Since the preliminary feedback has been so positive, we plan to run it as a hybrid meeting next year as well.”
Normally a one-day event, the conference has been split over two days to accommodate multiple time zones. It will be an early morning for those in the U.S., a late evening for those in Asia and Australia, with a midday start for those in Europe. The hybrid format has made it more convenient for people from all over the world to attend, with more than 450 people registered so far – more than double the number that attended in person last year. “It is overly exciting to be a part of this transition this year, which is only possible thanks to the passion and dedication of the MDC events team,” says Dr. Sonia Waiczies, a B.U.F.F. scientist and conference co-organizer. “The silver lining of corona is that we are learning how to become more digitally connected with other scientists at the other end of the world. This year we will be able to reach our goals, perhaps even more effectively than usual.”
The goal of the symposium is to bring a diverse array of people together, from students to experts, physicists to engineers, biologists to clinicians, to discuss imaging technologies across many disciplines.
Usually, when Niendorf attends the major magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) conferences, he knows most of the people there. Inspiration levels at those events are usually low, and talking with the same people can inadvertently reinforce biases. That’s why he and the organizers of this symposium make a point to create an environment that draws a much broader range of participants and speakers.
“We want to encourage young, emerging scientists to say what they want to say,” Niendorf says. “So much behind the work must be left out of papers, but those tiny details are often key ingredients to reproducing experiments or moving ideas forward.”
All 22 talks including two keynote lectures, along with panel discussions and short poster presentations, will be given live, so participants can ask questions in real time. Talks and posters will also be available to download and participants can follow up with speakers and each other afterwards as well.
More than MRI
The symposium primarily focuses on ultrahigh field magnetic resonance imaging, which refers to MRI machines with magnetic field strength of 7 tesla or higher. These are much stronger than the machines most patients experience, which usually clock in at 1.5 to 3.0 tesla. This year, researchers will share their experiences using even more sensitive “extreme” high field MRIs, cranking out magnetic fields of 14 to 20 tesla, that can track sodium and potassium ions in the body.
However, the conference is expanding its scope to consider different types of imaging techniques and how they can be combined to maximize insight. In fact, the first keynote speaker is not an MRI specialist. Dr. Katrin Heinze, an expert in optical engineering and molecular microscopy from the University of Würzburg, will kick things off with a talk: “Why all the Fuss About Ultrahigh Field MRI: New Directions in Optical Imaging from the Nanoscopic to the Mesoscopic Scale.”
Other important themes that will be explored include integration with data science and connecting clinicians more directly with imaging tools. “I don’t want to discriminate against the eyes of an imaging expert, but by far it is not enough,” Niendorf says. “We need data sciences to pull more information from the images. And we need to do a better job understanding the molecular and physiological meaning of imaging findings.”
These themes are part of a larger movement that is gaining momentum. The symposium will also mark the official start of a new Helmholtz International Research School, “Imaging from the nanoscopic to the mesoscopic scale” (iNAMES). The school is a collaboration between MDC, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, and will offer interdisciplinary training in multiple imaging platforms and data sciences.
The registration deadline for the UHF-MR symposium is August 26.
Text by: Laura Petersen