ISMRM Gold Medal 2020

This year I was among the four ISMRM Gold Medal recipients for 2020. These were Ken Kwong, Robert Turner, and Kaori Togashi. It was a deep honor to win this along side my two friends: Ken Kwong, who arguably was the first to demonstrate fMRI in humans, and Bob Turner, who has been a constant pioneer in all aspects of fast imaging since even before my time and then fMRI since the beginning. I have always looked up to and respected past ISMRM gold medal winners, and am very deeply humbled to be among this highly esteemed company. I’m also grateful to Hanbing Lu for nominating me, as well as to those who wrote support letters for me. It’s also an acknowledgement by ISMRM of the importance of fMRI as a field, which while so successful in brain mapping for research purposes, has not yet fully entered into clinical utility.

While the event was virtual, there was no actual physical presentation of the Gold Medal to the recipients, however, a couple of weeks ago I came back to my office to pick up a few things after vacating it on March 16 due to Covid. At the base of the door I found a Fedex box, which I was deeply delighted to find this pleasant surprise inside:

Here is what I said for my acceptance speech, which I feel is important to share.

“I would like to thank ISMRM for this incredible honor. Throughout my career, and especially at the start, I enjoyed quite a bit of serendipity. Back in 1989, when I was starting graduate school at the Medical College of Wisconsin, I was extremely lucky to be at just the right place at the right time and wouldn’t be here accepting this without the help of my mentors, colleagues, and lab over the years.

Before starting graduate school, before fMRI, I had absolutely no idea what was ahead of me, but I did know one thing: that I wanted to image brain function with MRI…somehow. My parents instilled a sense of curiosity, and dinnertime conversations with my Dad sparked my fascination with the brain.

Jim Hyde, my advisor, set up the Biophysics Dept at MCW to excel in MRI hardware and basic research. His confidence and bold style were infused into the center’s culture.

Scott Hinks my co-advisor, helped me during a critical and uncertain time in my graduate career, and I’m grateful for his taking me on. His clear thinking set an inspiringly high standard.

Eric Wong, my dear friend, colleague and mentor, was a fellow graduate student with me at the time, and it’s to him that I have my most profound gratitude. He designed and built the local head gradient and RF coils and wrote from scratch the EPI pulse sequence and reconstruction necessary to perform our first fMRI experiments. He taught me almost everything I know about MRI, but more importantly he trained me well through his example. He constantly came up with great ideas, and one of his most common phrases was “let’s try it.” This phrase set the optimistic and proactive approach I have taken to this day. In September of 1991, one month after Ken Kowng’s jaw-dropping results shown by Tom Brady at the then called SMR meeting in San Francisco, we collected our first successful fMRI data and from then on were well positioned to help push the field. Without Eric’s work, MCW would have had no fMRI, and my career would have looked very different.

The late Andre Jesmanowicz, a professor at MCW, helped in a big way through his fundamental contribution to our paper introducing correlation analysis of fMRI time series.

My post doc experience at the Mass General Hospital lasted less than 2 years but felt like 10, in a good way, as I learned so much from the great people there. That place just hums with intellectual energy.

One of my best decisions was to accept an offer to join Leslie Ungerleider’s Laboratory of Brain and Cognition as well as to create a joint NINDS/NIMH functional MRI facility. It’s here that I have been provided with so much support. My colleague at the NIH, Alan Korestky, has been source of insight, and is perhaps my favorite NIH person to talk to. In general NIH is just teeming with great people in both MRI and neuroscience. The environment is perfect.

My neuroscientist and clinician collaborators have been essential for disseminating fMRI as they embraced new methods and findings.

I have been lucky to have an outstanding multidisciplinary team. Many have gone on to be quite successful, including Rasmus Birn, Jerzy Bodurka, Natalia Petridou, Kevin Murphy, Prantik Kundu, Niko Kriegeskorte, Carlton Chu, Emily Finn, and Renzo Huber.

My current team of staff scientists have shown outstanding commitment over the years and especially during these difficult times. These include Javier Gonzalez-Castillo, Dan Handwerker, Sean Marrett, Pete Molfese, Vinai Roopchansingh, Linqing Li, Andy Derbyshire, Francisco Pereira, and Adam Thomas.

The worldwide community of friends I have gained through this field is special to me, and a reminder that science, on so many levels, is a positive force for cohesion across countries and cultures.

Lastly, I am also so very lucky and thankful for my brilliant, adventurous, and supportive wife, Patricia, and my three precocious boys who challenge me every day.

An approach to research that has always worked well at least for me has been to be completely open with sharing ideas, not to care about credit, and perhaps most importantly, to think broadly, deeply, and simply and then proceed optimistically and boldly. To just try it. There are many possible reasons for an idea not to work, but in most cases it’s worthwhile to test it anyway.

Someday, we will figure out the brain, and I believe that fMRI will help us get there. It’s a bright future. Thank you.”

Ten Unique Characteristics of fMRI

A motivation for this blog is that since our graduate student days, Eric Wong and I have had hundreds of great conversations about MRI, fMRI, brain imaging, neuroscience, machine learning, and more. We finally decided to go ahead and start posting some of these, as well as thoughts of our own. It’s better – for us and hopefully others – to publicly share our thoughts, perspectives, and questions, than to keep them to ourselves. The posts are varied in topic and format. In certain areas, we know what we’re talking about, and in other others, we might be naïve or just wrong, so we welcome feedback! We also welcome guest blogs as we hope to grow the list of guest contributors and readers.  Continue reading “Ten Unique Characteristics of fMRI”