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HST helps launch imaging partnership with Mass. General

Heralded as an innovative collaboration, the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Functional and Structural Biomedical Imaging celebrated its creation last Friday in Charlestown.

A $20 million gift from Marina and Thanassis Martinos to the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) in March 1999 catalyzed a partnership between Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and MIT to establish a biomedical imaging center to foster translational neuroscience research -- research that spans disciplines from basic to clinical investigation, to the development and medical application of new technologies.

The Martinos Center will be a world-leading biomedical imaging enterprise that combines, under one roof, the principal strengths of the HST community: MIT, Harvard and the Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals.

Its mission is to build the next generation of functional imaging tools; to apply these tools to biologically, neurologically and clinically relevant problems; to provide training for physical, biological and clinical scientists; and to provide a hub for interdisciplinary collaborations across Harvard and MIT and other institutions worldwide.

Last Friday's event celebrated the first steps toward making this vision a reality.

The center will be located temporarily in MGH's research building in Charlestown. Current plans call for the Martinos Center to move in 2004 to its permanent home as part of the neuroscience complex at MIT, where it will be located together with the McGovern Institute, the Center for Learning and Memory, the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Division of Comparative Medicine.

Collaboration was the theme of the afternoon. HST co-director Joseph V. Bonventre of Harvard was master of ceremonies, while Martha L. Gray, the MIT co-director, spoke to more than 300 people about the strengths that emerge when potential competitors work together toward a common goal. Dr. Gray is the Edward Hood Taplin Professor of Medical and Electrical Engineering.

President Charles M. Vest remarked on the importance of this unique collaboration to improve human health. "We have entered an era when many of our society's most important scientific, technological and medical innovations spring from multidisciplinary, collaborative approaches to research," he said. "Such collaborations have developed for us a new generation of structural and functional imaging devices that allow us to observe dynamic biological processes at unprecedented size and time scales."

Also offering remarks were Samuel O. Thier, president and CEO of Partners HealthCare, and Dennis L. Kasper, executive dean for academic programs in the faculty of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

James H. Thrall, chairman of the Department of Radiology at MGH, echoed the theme of collaboration, commenting that collaborations -- many by HST and MIT students -- are already having impact.

Dr. Bruce R. Rosen, who gave a keynote address, outlined a brief history of imaging from the earliest days, where one could only get blurry images of internal structures in the body, to today, where doctors can tell in real time if and how the brain is reacting to medication, stimulation and/or trauma.

At the end of the ceremony, Daniel C. Shannon, a longtime friend of the Martinos family and professor of health sciences and technology, announced the creation of a gallery that will feature the works of local artists. To start the collection, he donated a piece depicting the human brain and head from a series by Heidi Whitman entitled Uncharted Territories.

"This work is especially appropriate since there is so much yet to be discovered with the aid of imaging," he said.

Marina and Thanassis Martinos of Athens, Greece, gave their gift in memory of their daughter Athinoula, who died at age 24 of a brain disorder. It is their hope -- and the hope of future Martinos Center researchers -- that some good ultimately will come from her untimely death.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 8, 2000.

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