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Feb 25-26: Ultra-high field NMR symposium

A two-day scientific Symposium was held on February 25-26, 2020, at the Weizmann Institute of Science. The Ultra-high Field Symposium marks the inauguration of the 1000 MHz (1 GHz) NMR Spectrometer at the Weizmann Institute, and gathered a roster of national and international leaders in the field of NMR spectroscopy.

Combatting protein aggregation

Dr. Rina Rosenzweig studies the structure and function of molecular machines in our cells, called chaperones, that can reverse the formation of toxic protein aggregates and amyloid fibers associated with a host of debilitating conditions, such as ALS, and Parkinson’s, Alzheimer's, and Huntington's diseases.  

Using a combination of advanced NMR techniques and biophysical functional assays, the Rosenzweig  lab aims to obtain a structural and mechanistic understanding of how these chaperones work, and why, in certain cases, they fail - giving rise to some of the most prevalent age related illnesses of our time.

Magnetic resonance in the single molecule limit

Studying single molecules with nanoscale magnetic resonance imaging is the focus of Dr. Amit Finkler of the Department of Chemical and Biological Physics, an expert in magnetometry using quantum sensors. He developed a technique making use of atomic defects in diamond, known as nitrogen vacancy (NV) centers, to probe the strength of interaction between two electrons in a molecule.

Dr. Finkler is now assembling a novel apparatus for magnetic spectroscopy, which would be able to distinguish between two neighboring molecules, thereby also modifying the chemical reaction products. This project will allow him to "peek under" the molecular ensemble of magnetic resonance and observe statistical outliers. His research has also shown how it is possible to make use of the quantum-ness of these sensors to further enhance both the sensitivity and spectral resolution of molecules under investigation.

A deeper understanding of brain function

Dr. Assaf Tal of the Department of Chemical and Biological Physics is developing new ways to look at brain function. Conventional functional imaging, such as BOLD-fMRI or EEG, looks at neuronal electrical activity (or hemodynamic surrogates). Such methods only reveal whether neurons are “ON” or “OFF”; however, brain activity is much more complex, and neurons communicate between themselves using a wide range of small molecules known as neurotransmitters.

By combining magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy, Dr. Tal selectively examines the spatial and temporal dynamics of small molecules such as glutamate and Gamma- aminobutyric acid (GABA), the brain’s major excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters. This has recently enabled him to demonstrate that certain structures in the brain exhibit complex neurochemical dynamics during learning and decision making that extend beyond the simple “ON/OFF” paradigm. This finding can potentially help us understand how the brain rewires itself as we learn, adapt and face uncertainty. 

New biomarkers for brain imaging

The recent push towards ultra-high (magnetic) fields in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is expected to change the face of biomedical imaging. Recent studies employing state-of-the-art 7-T and 9.4-T MRI scanners achieved submillimeter resolution in 3D imaging of the human brain. Dr. Rita Schmidt in the Department of Neurology focuses on ultra-high field MRI aiming to better understand the human brain function.

To do so, Dr. Schmidt is looking for new biomarkers and contrast methods, as well as new methods of acquisition. Her lab’s interests include examining changes in electrical conductivity (a new type of contrast), specifically within the brain, to provide more direct measurement of the neural activation, as well as metabolic spectroscopic imaging that can shed more light on it.

These topics go hand in hand with the study of fast and high-resolution imaging acquisitions, as well as the study of artificial materials for MRI that allow zooming-in on the brain, as with a magnifying lens. Translating the new methods for human imaging, the Schmidt MRI lab also develops phantoms with relevant brain-mimicking properties.

Developing innovative NMR/MRI techniques

Prof. Lucio Frydman’s research focuses on nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and imaging. These NMR/MRI techniques enable researchers to characterize molecular structures and dynamics with unprecedented precision, and shed new light on the molecular interactions governing a wide range of biological, chemical, and physical processes.

Frydman and his group have developed numerous theories and practical techniques that enable the determination of the structures of materials, pharmaceuticals, proteins, metabolites and tissues in vitro and in vivo – in animals and humans – with improved resolution, speed, and sensitivity.

Counted among Frydman’s propositions are widely used experiments for acquiring NMR spectra of quadrupolar (Spin ≥ 1) nuclei in the solid phase; new “ultrafast” approaches that enable the acquisition of arbitrary multi-dimensional NMR spectra within a single scan (yielding correlations in acquisition times that are orders of magnitude faster than hitherto possible), new spatio-temporal encoding strategies to collect MRI images in a single scan (yielding real-time images and information that were hitherto inaccessible by other MRI methods), as well as new forms of nuclear hyperpolarization to enhance NMR's and MRI’s sensitivity.

 

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