My interest in medical imaging research came as a surprise to me as it was not a paththat I have envisioned at the beginning of my undergraduate career. In retrospect, I seehow my undergraduate and graduate studies have led me into this area of research andhow it suits me perfectly.
Inspired by my mother’s career as a chief physician at a hospital, I enrolled in theundergraduate biomedical engineering program at Xi’an Jiaotong University, anexcellent institution in this field, with a keen interest in applied physics and math. I wasthrilled to apply the knowledge I learned in class to design creative devices such asMCU-based heart rate monitor as well as an EEG-controlled music player for peoplewith Alzheimer’s disease. Research is about more than just carrying out experimentsand designs; it is a complicated process of intellectual questioning and discovery.Keeping this lesson in mind, I found that the user’s attention has a large impact on thefunctioning of my player design and was inspired to investigate the impact ofattentiveness based on corticomuscular coherence. As the team leader of these projects,I not only laid out the overall research design, but also took charge of organizing groupwork and managing our budget. I gradually honed my innovative thinking andleadership skills.
I truly enjoyed the accomplishment of query, discovery, andconverting technology into the field of healthcare.Luckily, I was chosen for a summer internship at Philips Healthcare in my junior year,where I received training on MRI principles and pulse sequence design. I wasmesmerized by the perfect physical laws and elegant math hidden in the hollow cylinder.Following this long last interest, I joined Professor Bai Lijun’s Lab in functional MRIanalysis for my thesis.
Reading a variety of papers taught me that aging is a heated topicin neural imaging research, so I conducted an independent project to investigate theintervention mechanism of mild cognitive impairment (MCI). I proposed combing thestructural analysis of DTI with the functional analysis of fMRI-BOLD to reveal thefunctionality and connectivity transformation of the brain. To modify my method, Ianalyzed previous studies and taught myself various image processing and analysistechniques such as tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) and Small-World Networks.This experience allowed me to become an independent researcher. Meanwhile, I wasintrigued by the beauty of MRI and its essential role in diagnosis and treatment, and it’smore appealing for me to see how MRI is applied in clinic since it makes research cometrue. Driven by this curiosity, I completed an internship in the Department of Radiologyand Radiation Oncology at the First Affiliated Hospital of Xi’an Jiaotong University.Shadowing with the medical physicists, I found that the image-guided radiation therapy(IGRT) technology is a perfect fusion of MRI with clinical use, and this is what I wantto pursue.
With a strong interest in MRI, I entered Duke University’s Medical Physics GraduateProgram. I am excited about MRI applications, especially in radiation therapy, becauseof its superior soft-tissue contrast for tumor imaging and its strong potential for dailyimaging without radiation dose, which could bring evolution to the clinic. In thistopnotch program, I took advanced courses to gain expertise with difference MRIapplications and radiation therapy concepts. The practicum courses gave me clinicalexperience with a variety of both radiation therapy procedures and imaging techniquessuch as MR, CBCT, and PET, which have enriched my comprehension of MRI andIGRT. For example, to obtain a better understanding of IGRT key concepts, I took over a project to achieve a Digitally Reconstructed Radiography (DRR) generationalgorithm from planning images, and designed rigid image registration programbetween DRR and on-board images to acquire coordinate shift information. It waschallenging but thrilling to transform this theoretical concept, which was a ‘black box’that I only used in commercial software, into an actual practice. Although thisimplementation was only practiced on a simple pelvis phantom, the work enriched mycomprehension of the translation of image techniques.
My interest in MRI translation and IGRT led me to join the research group of myadvisors Dr. Jing Cai and Dr. Lei Ren. The work for my thesis research involvesdeveloping a retrospective sorting method of 4D-MRI with diaphragm profile-basedrespiratory surrogate to improve respiratory motion management in radiation therapy.My work aims to reduce stitching artifacts, which is inherent in 4D images based onclassic sorting methods. The first challenge that I encountered was extracting theanatomic information of the diaphragm from orthogonal MRI images. After reviewingpapers on existing methods, I designed a region growing auto-segmentation method.
However, in a practical situation, the actual patient data would have greater complexitythan a digital phantom, which would influence the accuracy of the landmarkinformation. Through detailed analysis, I found that cross correlation, a commonly usedmetric for image registration, would be an excellent method for reducing theuncertainties in implementing landmark matching in order to reconstruct 4D images.Currently, I am testing the robustness of this method with irregular breathing signalsand trying to optimize it further. Research involves solving a series complicatedproblems and this project further strengthened my skills at doing so.
My fascinationwith the translation of MRI into clinical applications also grew further and it is mymotivation for pursuing a PhD in medical imaging.From all of these experiences, I have developed a strong interest in research and apassion for becoming a research scientist in translational imaging research in clinic.The systematic research training I will receive as a PhD student will enable me to pursuethis goal.
With a clear objective, I am eager to continue my PhD research at YaleUniversity, which offers diverse imaging research which are closely related to clinicalpractice, such as Dr. Todd Constable’s and Michelle Hampson’s research on functionalneuroimaging, Dr. Dana C Peters’s research interest in cardiovascular MRIdevelopment, Dr. Lawrence H.
Staib’s project about image analysis, and Dr. Chi Liu’sgroup in PET/CT and SPECT/CT technology development. However, I would also beinterested in joining another imaging related group.
My training and background inmedical physics and biomedical engineering have prepared me well for therequirements of a PhD student majoring in biomedical engineering. The PhD programat Yale University will allow me to apply my talent and skill to become a leader in thefield of medical imaging.