A conversation with Mike VanElzakker: how his research team studies neuroinflammation

July 18th, 2020 by Amy Proal

Michael VanElzakker, Phd, is a neuroscientist affiliated at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Tufts University. He conducts his imaging research at the Martinos Center for Biomedical imaging. We discuss how he uses fMRI and PET imaging to study neuroinflammation in patients with chronic disease, including the condition Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS).

One of the topics Mike talks about is microglia, which are immune cells in the brain. Mike uses the imaging technique PET with a PBR28 radioligand to detect where microglia may be activated in the brain of a living patient. If you want to hear Mike talk more about activated microglia in ME/CFS watch this talk he gave on the subject. Mike also mentions perivascular spaces – fluid filled spaces surrounding blood vessels that penetrate from the skull into the brain, and are enlarged during neuroinflammation. If you want to hear Mike talk about preliminary data his team has collected on perivascular spaces in ME/CFS watch this talk.

One of the members of Mike’s ME/CFS neuroimaging team is Ken Kwong. Ken co-discovered the fMRI BOLD response three decades ago in 1991. The picture to the right shows him using that early machine. Mike is also working to set up a 7-Tesla imaging study with Jon Polemeni at the Martinos Center. Jon develops 7Tesla sequences, and took the beautiful picture on the left (an image of blood vessels in a living patient’s brain).