August 29, 2011

Bug busters: JHU to host daylong symposium on infection imaging

Sept. 13 event to unveil new approaches to tracking infections

Doctors can peer inside the human body to look for tumors, detect a blockage in an artery or see a crack in a bone, but common afflictions like bacterial and viral infections are far more difficult to track, and even the most sophisticated imaging devices can offer only a less than definitive answer.

“Although CT scans and MRIs can spot disease, they can’t always reliably tell a physician if that suspicious shade they see on the screen is a tumor or a hotbed of bacteria,” said imaging innovator Sanjay Jain, an associate professor in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

But what if doctors could look inside the body and spot hidden pockets of infection or simmering epicenters of inflammation and promptly tell them apart from other diseases? What if they could monitor, in real time, how bacteria respond to medication and adjust treatment accordingly? Novel techniques—now in development and being tested in animals—are already making some of these scenes possible, paving the way to a new era in diagnosing and monitoring infectious disease.

Physicians and scientists will gather on Tuesday, Sept. 13, at the David H. Koch Cancer Research Building on the Johns Hopkins East Baltimore campus to unveil the latest approaches to imaging infection and inflammation. The symposium will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Albert Owens Auditorium.

Conceived by Jain and colleagues at Johns Hopkins, and organized by the Department of Medicine’s Center for Infection and Inflammation Imaging Research, the symposium will feature about a dozen speakers, from Johns Hopkins and elsewhere, with cross-disciplinary areas of expertise, including infectious diseases, radiology, oncology, mathematics, clinical imaging sciences and others.

Even though the standard blood draw and bacterial count will remain a doctor’s best way to track infection, the new imaging approaches will add a powerful tool to the doctor’s arsenal, experts predict. “These new techniques will be particularly invaluable in situations when we cannot draw a patient’s blood or do a surgical biopsy,” said neuroradiologist Dima Hammoud, of the National Institutes of Health.

Although the new imaging techniques will undeniably help clinicians on the frontlines, they may play an even greater role in the lab. “We are already combining some of the new techniques with mathematical analysis and computer programs to solve medical research puzzles,” said mathematician and imaging scientist Bruno Jedynak, of the Johns Hopkins Center for Imaging Science.

Topics of discussion will include “Seeing HIV Beyond the T-cell Count,” “Tracking Bacteria” and “Inflammation,” and a show-and-tell session will explain how infectious disease imaging can help solve research puzzles.

Jain’s research has been funded by the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

For more information on the symposium, go to