Binghamton University has partnered with United Health Services (UHS) to bring a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) center to Vestal, New York.

The Binghamton Brain and Body Imaging Research Center (BBIRC), a partnership formed by BU in 2021 with UHS and the Research Center, purchased a $2.6 million MRI scanner. An MRI uses large magnets and radio waves instead of radiation in order to create images of the human body. The device, a Siemens MAGNETOM Prisma 3 Tesla scanner, was installed in the radiology wing of the UHS Vestal campus in May 2023.

The MRI was invented through the separate contributions of two SUNY researchers. Raymond Damadian, a physician and scientist at SUNY Downstate Medical theorized that nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technology could be used to detect cancerous tumors. The idea was successfully tested with water in which the relaxation times, or the time it takes for the element’s nucleus to return to normal after excitation, differed significantly between cancerous and healthy tissues. Damadian published his findings in 1971, followed him filing the first patent in the field of MRI in 1972. In 1977, Damadian built a machine that successfully performed a cross-sectional scan of the human torso.

Paul Lauterbur, a professor of chemistry and radiology at Stony Brook University, expanded on Damadian’s theory by using NMR signals to pinpoint specific locations of anomalies in the human body. This was done by creating gradients in the strength of the magnetic time. This let them create 2D and 3D images, thus providing a visual map of any issues occurring in the body. In 2003, Lauterbur and British physicist Peter Mansfield both won the Nobel Prize for this work on the machine.

According to UHS, the new MRI scanner will allow Southern Tier patients to receive cardiac MRIs locally, as such services were previously only available in large cities including Syracuse, Rochester and New York City. Services of the new scanner include diagnosing brain disorders, cardiovascular disease and orthopedic injuries. The center will allow UHS and BU to collaborate in clinical research areas including biomedical engineering, psychology, neuroscience and computer science.

In a statement, University President Harvey Stenger discussed the contributions of the new imaging center and scanner to New York state.

“This public-private partnership will benefit the community by providing the most advanced imaging technology in the region,” Stenger said. “This project is in alignment with the research strategy outlined by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul in her latest State of the State message, and will enhance our ability to attract external funding, as well as build research partnerships with industry and other universities.”

As part of the BBIRC’s formation, BU has recruited three new faculty members that are conducting research on human brain development, cognitive neuroscience, age-related cognitive change and Alzheimer’s disease. The BBIRC is led by J. David Jentsch, a professor of psychology, with other faculty recruitments currently underway.

Nina Raia, a senior majoring in integrative neuroscience, said the new scanner and center was an appropriate use of BU’s funds and described how it could support her major.

“I’m excited to see what both institutions will do with the machine and the new center,” Raia said. “As an integrative neuroscience major and someone who’s working toward a career in health care, it’s great to know that strides are being made to improve the lives of people who suffer from these neurological diseases/conditions.”

Vanessa Alvarenga, a junior majoring in biological sciences, said the purchase reflects BU’s values and their research initiatives.

“I think that in partnering with UHS to make this purchase, BU has done exactly what its students value of the University,” Alvarenga said. “In bringing such advanced technology to the Southern Tier, we are helping the Binghamton community that we’ve become a part of to help its patients.”