Researcher focused on imaging metabolism receives NIH New Innovator Award

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Oct. 5, 2021

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Quinn Eastman
qeastma@emory.edu

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The National Institutes of Health has announced a Director's New Innovator Award for Emory researcher Candace Fleischer (left), who plans to use magnetic resonance imaging in new ways to study metabolic disease.

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The National Institutes of Health has announced a Director's New Innovator Award for Emory researcher Candace Fleischer, who plans to use magnetic resonance imaging in new ways to study metabolic disease. 

The $1.5 million, five-year New Innovator Award supports unusually innovative research from early career investigators who are within 10 years of their final degree or clinical residency, and is part of the National Institutes of Health Common Fund’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program.

Fleischer calls her approach “metaboloradiomics.” The research could open new understanding of how conditions such as diabetes or non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases, or rarer inherited metabolic diseases, affect the brain and other organs. It could also offer insights into how metabolism affects brain health and function, adding to our knowledge of disorders ranging from Alzheimer's disease and brain injury to cancer. 

“We do not have a way to non-invasively image metabolic abnormalities in the clinic,” says Fleischer, who is assistant professor of radiology and imaging sciences at Emory and part of the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory. “Yet we have steadily increasing evidence that metabolism is crucial for disease onset and treatment response.”

Fleischer plans to demonstrate the approach in the brain, but the methods could be applicable to other organs as well. The project includes computational and experimental approaches for standardizing magnetic resonance spectroscopy data, eliminating variation between scanners and sites, and prediction of whole brain or whole organ metabolites from limited data acquisition.

“Our vision is to develop a baseline distribution of metabolic health that can be used in a manner similar to height and weight charts for developing children,” Fleischer says. 

This spring, Fleischer was also awarded a Trailblazer grant from National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering for monitoring brain temperature using magnetic resonance techniques, in the setting of therapeutic hypothermia.