The Center for Biomedical Imaging marks its 15th anniversary
For the past decade and a half, the Center for Biomedical Imaging (CIBM) has been bringing researchers and clinicians together to develop cutting-edge technologies. This anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the Center’s past successes and ponder the challenges that lie ahead in the field of medical imaging.
The CIBM was founded in 2004 on the initiative of five institutions – EPFL, the University of Lausanne (UNIL), the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) and the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV). Fifteen years on, the Center is still going strong. And with a new executive director, a new logo and a new structure this year, the CIBM is ready to tackle the future.
The CIBM has advanced biomedical imaging expertise in electroencephalography (EEG), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and signal processing (SP). Its 45 staff members – scientists, post-docs and technical and administrative staff – operate the Center’s various research modules across five main sites: EPFL, UNIGE, Campus Biotech, the CHUV and HUG. Researchers and clinicians work closely together at these facilities. “The CIBM has a real impact on society,” says Dr. Pina Marziliano, the Center’s new executive director, “because the research we do seeks to resolve specific problems brought to us by clinicians.”
The CIBM is also open to sharing its expertise with outside partners. “Not only do we have the latest equipment, but we also know how to use it effectively – what equipment is required, the best way to use it, and how the resulting data should be analyzed,” adds Dr. Marziliano. “This is important added value.”
A real boon for clinical practice
In just 15 years of existence, the CIBM has already made significant contributions in the field of biomedical imaging. The Center’s researchers are behind a number of advances that have made their way into everyday clinical practice. Take EEG, for example, a technique that provides highly accurate temporal and spatial information on cerebral function. “We played a central role in the recognition of this neuroimaging technique and the development of methods that have made it possible for this technique to be used routinely in clinics, such as in neonatal care and the treatment of epilepsy,” says Micah Murray, who runs the EEG unit at CHUV-UNIL. “I see this as a case where clinical needs drove applied research. We no longer focus on group or population studies – we now look at individuals, how they respond to a single trial, and the extent to which their functionality can vary.”
The future of biomedical imaging
Given the progress that has been made, are there any challenges left in the field of medical imaging? “There are issues relating to data management and ethics,” adds Murray, “as well as mechanical problems to be overcome and truly translational discoveries to be made. I also see new avenues to explore in neuroethology and the evolutionary study of physiological processes.”
Wearable technologies and the growing use of medical imaging in developing countries also stand to be improved. “The availability, wearability and affordability of EEG make it the method of choice for the large-scale screening of diseases with a major societal impact in developing countries, such as Alzheimer’s, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder,” says Christoph Michel, the head of the EEG unit at HUG-UNIGE. “We’re just getting started, but the potential is enormous – and the CIBM could make a difference.”
Another major challenge will be to develop prognostic and predictive imaging. Martin Walter, a medical practitioner and the head of the PET unit at HUG-UNIGE, says: “At this point, all our PET scanners show the current status of a disease, yet most of the questions that clinicians and patients ask are about the future: How is the disease progressing? What’s the best treatment for this patient? Exactly how effective will the treatment be, and will there be any side effects? Our goal is to develop prognostic and predictive imaging techniques that will help us answer these questions.”
Artificial intelligence is also poised to play a greater role in imaging. “Artificial intelligence will do much more than just help with diagnosis,” says François Lazeyras, the head of the MRI unit at HUG-UNIGE. “It will be directly involved in MRI image acquisition and other processes, improving quality and removing imperfections – such as when a patient moves while being scanned.” Lazeyras also thinks that “imaging processes themselves will increasingly target the physiology of human tissue in general rather than focusing narrowly on lesion morphology. If they have information on cellular function, doctors will be in a better position to predict how a patient will respond to a given therapy or the chances that a transplanted organ will survive. This is a major step forward for personalized medicine.”
In April 2019, Pina Marziliano became the CIBM’s executive director, taking over from Rolf Gruetter, the founding director. Dr. Marziliano studied Applied Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of Montreal before doing her PhD in Communication Systems at EPFL. She then went on to serve as an associate professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Dr. Gruetter remains in charge of the CIBM’s Animal Imaging and Technology unit.
Dr. Marziliano envisions a more visible and more accessible Center: “I want to raise the CIBM’s profile so that it becomes the leading Swiss biomedical imaging center.” In pursuit of these goals, the CIBM has a new logo and website and will seek outside partnerships more proactively.
The CIBM was created thanks in part to the generous support of the Leenaards Foundation and the Louis-Jeantet Foundation.