Science & Research

Dr. Andrew Goertzen

BY JOEL SCHLESINGER
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2012

At first glance, the University of Manitoba's Department of Physics & Astronomy might seem to have little in common with the advancement of health-care research.

But for medical physicist Dr. Andrew Goertzen, an associate professor in the Department of Radiology at the University of Manitoba, the work being done by his research team could advance medical research into new treatments for diseases like Alzheimer's disease, cancer and heart disease. Goertzen's team, comprised of researchers from Radiology, Engineering and Physics & Astronomy, works on trying to find a better way for scientists to study disease in mice. To do that, they are building a high resolution positron emission tomography machine - one that's small enough for mice. More precisely, their research aims to develop small animal imaging systems and multi-modality hybrid PET-MRI. Basically, it's a way to look inside lab mice to better understand how disease works and how experimental new treatments may or may not prevent or cure disease.

This is important for one big reason: the mouse stays alive. "What this allows us to do is track a single animal over an extended period of time in the same way that we monitor patients in a clinical setting," says Goertzen. Presently, researchers need large numbers of animals with identical genetics to track the progression of disease and whether experimental treatments work.

"The use of imaging techniques such as hybrid PET-MRI allows the same subject to be imaged at multiple time points to study the evolution of the disease and treatment process," he says. "This use of imaging accelerates the translation of basic discoveries in animal models of human disease to implementation in trials involving human subjects."

Goertzen's approach merges magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) - both expensive and complex technologies - into one device by allowing the PET system to fit inside conventional animal MRI systems such as the one presently installed at the U of M. "Really, it's a great example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts because the types of information you get from the PET and MRI are highly complementary." So while they're not building a better mousetrap, they're on their way to developing a better research lab - and pushing medical research years ahead.

Wave: November / December 2012

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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