The McConnell Brain Imaging Centre ("The BIC") is a multidisciplinary research centre dedicated to advancing our understanding of brain functions and dysfunctions, as well as the treatment of neurological diseases with imaging methods. It is also one of the largest, multimodal brain imaging service platforms worldwide (largest in Canada), serving a community of 120+ investigators and generating a volume approaching 4,000 research scans per year using the gamut of neuroimaging facilities.
More Than 120 Principal Investigators and Their Teams Use BIC’s Facilities
The BIC gathers one of the largest scientific communities in North America dedicated to imaging of the human brain. Launched in 1984 by the late Dr. William Feindel, with the generous aid of the McConnell Family Foundation, the BIC is now home to 29 world-class researchers, 30 highly qualified personnel and more than 300 trainees and research assistants. Consequently, it is widely regarded as one of the top brain imaging research centres in the world. Finally, what makes the BIC even more unique is the integration of all these resources with the Montreal Neurological Hospital, a 60-bed facility with specialized neurology and neurosurgery clinics, hence fostering translational research for the benefits of Canadians and patients worldwide.
A Unique Platform for Brain Research
The BIC provides unique access to all major imaging instruments and modalities (human and animals). It comprises seven technological and methodological platforms (units) located under the same roof and adapted for optimizing the acquisition and analysis of multimodal neuroimaging data in both humans and animal models. The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Unit (Director: R. Hoge) comprises two distinct platforms: 1) a 3.0 Tesla (T) system from Siemens, which has been upgraded to the PRISMAfit technology, and 2) the first-ever full-body Siemens Terra 7.0T MRI system installed in Canada (June 2019), which provides unmatched field homogeneity over a wide field-of-view and allows high-resolution imaging not only of the brain, but of the spinal cord, peripheral nerves, neuromuscular system, and autonomic nervous system. Also the preclinical MRI Unit (Director: D. Rudko) currently includes a PharmaScan 7.0T system from Bruker, which we are planning to replace with a new Bruker BioSpec 9.4T scanner to enhance our research capabilities into the phenotyping of small animal models of disease (mice, rats, marmosets).
The BIC: An integrated multimodal Neuroimaging and Neuroinformatics Center
Similarly, the Positron Emission Tomography Unit (PET) (Director: J.-P. Soucy) is composed of three distinct platforms used for molecular imaging in humans and preclinical disease models. First, the PET platform is currently equipped with a high-resolution (2.4 mm) Siemens HRRT camera for research in human participants with or without neuropathological conditions. Yet, thanks to a generous donation from the “Fondation Courtois”, in August 2020 the BIC will host a second camera, which will be the first commercially-available, Health Canada approved, ultra-high resolution (UHR) PET system (1.3 mm) built by Imaging Research & Technology (R. Lecomte, inventor). This new scanner will allow us to increase our PET scanning capacity and to offer our researchers the exclusive possibility of imaging smaller substructures in the brain, thanks to its unprecedented resolution. Second, the preclinical PET platform is currently equipped with a CTI Concorde microPET R4 camera that we plan to replace with a preclinical Bruker PET insert compatible with preclinical MRI 9.4T system in order to acquire high-resolution hybrid PET/MR scans in rodents and marmoset disease models. Finally, such advanced molecular imaging facilities are supported via the Radiochemistry Unit (Director: G. Massarweh), which is capable of synthesizing and producing the world's largest repertoire of radiopharmaceuticals (n=32) based upon long (18F) and short (11C, 15O) half-life radio-isotopes, thanks to the expertise of our team and to the fact that the BIC is home to a cyclotron (i.e., the first-ever IBA cyclotron in Canada) located nearby the PET unit.
Researchers using the BIC infrastructure also have access to a 275-channel CTF magnetoencephalography (MEG) instrument (one of 10 in Canada). The technology enables simultaneous 60-channel electroencephalography (EEG) recording with 12 ancillary channels for heartbeats, ocular activity and respiration. Lead by S. Baillet (Director), the Unit has pioneered and championed technology for simultaneous eye tracking and pupillometry, open-source software for data analytics (Brainstorm) as well as the unique capacity for closed-loop, real-time data processing ideal for implementing neurofeedback studies, and real-time sensory presentations based on the participants’ ongoing brain activity.
The BIC has also a strong backbone of image processing expertise and large-scale analysis infrastructure, and it has tight connections with leading experts in other fields of neuroscience (from molecular biology and genetics to cognition) at the MNI, McGill, across the Quebec province and internationally. The Neuroinformatics Unit (Co-Directors: A. Evans and J.-B. Poline) is staffed by an IT systems expert (S. Milot ) and a data manager (T. Strauss), who are responsible for the management of data storage systems, network security, computing clusters, backup of data, the virtual machine clusters and documentation. Furthermore, A. Evans and his team head the neuroinformatics group that has created an open software environment for neuro data management, analysis and sharing. For example, they have created C-BIG-R, which is a LORIS Biobank module that helps to organize and track biospecimen data from various samples collected at the MNI. Multimodal imaging, clinical and genetic data are also directly stored and seamlessly linked at the institutional level, complete with privacy constraints, security functionality, automated acquisition protocols, quality control, enhanced querying and data sharing mechanisms.
Because of their expertise and to the BIC’s state-of-the-art neuroimaging and neuroinformatics infrastructure, our members maintain strong linkages with the clinical, clinical research and basic research communities within the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI), McGill University and have collaborations across Quebec, Canada, USA and internationally. The BIC is a dynamic multi-disciplinary research environment where our faculty train graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from a range of McGill University departments including neuroscience, biomedical engineering, neurology, psychology, medical physics, computer science, chemistry and neurosurgery. Being housed within the “Neuro”, consisting of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, and having strong partnerships with the Douglas Hospital and Jewish General Hospital, we also benefit from deep interactions with our clinical colleagues that enable the investigation of all major neurological and psychiatric diseases.