One of the Foundation’s central values is to foster the next generation of researchers, and we are proud to announce that Yekaterina “Katya” Gilbo recently completed her work on a focused ultrasound thermometry project sponsored by the Foundation and earned her Master of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Virginia.
Under the mentorship of Craig Meyer, PhD, and Wilson Miller, PhD, Katya defended her thesis, “Development of T1-thermometry for Monitoring the Skull during MRgFUS using a 3D Spiral Ultra-Short Echo Time Sequence” on May 14, 2020.
We interviewed Katya to learn more about her project and her future work as a data analyst in a Northern Virginia firm.
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Development of T1-thermometry for Monitoring the Skull during MRgFUS using a 3D Spiral Ultra-Short Echo Time Sequence
In MR-guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS), acoustic waves are focused through the skull to destroy target brain tissue as a treatment for movement disorders. Bone attenuates ultrasound energy 20 times more efficiently than soft tissue. Despite current clinical precautions, such as circulating cold water around the scalp and predicting the cooling time needed for the skull between sonications from a model, a recent study has shown that MRgFUS led to unintended skull lesions in 7 out of 30 patients. Current precautions are also incapable of limiting skull heating with off-center targets, and this discourages the use of MRgFUS for a wider variety of potential therapeutic targets, such as tumors. Furthermore, the cooling time estimate is not patient specific and can thus prolong an expensive, uncomfortable treatment needlessly. Thus, there is a need for skull thermometry.
Skull thermometry is challenging due to the extremely short T2* decay of cortical bone, which precludes the use of standard proton resonance frequency (PRF) methods, and because of the need for rapid imaging over a large field of view. Other researchers have shown a linear temperature dependence of T1 relaxation in cortical bone. Our initial goal was to investigate the feasibility and repeatability of T1-weighted thermometry under various conditions, such as different magnetic fields, mechanisms of heating, and methods of analysis. Inconsistent results from T1-weighted thermometry led us to focus on investigating the repeatability of T1-mapping thermometry instead and to determine whether T1-mapping thermometry can be accelerated to meet clinical constraints.
Using a non-selective, ultra-short-echo-time (UTE) 3D spiral sequence, we demonstrate that rapid T1 thermometry is feasible, and that it is more repeatable and quantitative than T1-weighted imaging.
Tell us about your undergraduate and graduate work.
I went to the University of Virginia (UVA) to earn both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. My undergraduate work was in physics, and I earned my bachelor’s degree in 2017. I was then accepted into, and enrolled in, the doctorate (PhD) program in biomedical engineering. I elected to stop at the Master’s level when I discovered that my interests were taking me beyond the benchtop and into other areas of science and technology.
How did you become interested in physics and biomedical engineering?
My father is a chemical engineer with expertise in disposing of nuclear waste. I was born in Russia, but we immigrated to the United States when I was eight years old. We lived in Mississippi, Maryland, and northern Virginia. I have identical twin sisters who are five years old. My uncle and his family had also come to the US, and the two brothers truly believed in the American dream of pursuing opportunities and expressing their creativity. My parents instilled scientific curiosity in me and always supported me academically to pursue my interests.
How was the process of completing your master’s degree?
My advisor was Craig Meyer, PhD. The Department of Biomedical Engineering was supportive and encouraging. Dr. Wilson Miller also mentored me on my skull thermometry project. Our laboratory is working to find ways to speed up focused ultrasound treatment of the brain and to make it as safe as possible. The ability to more closely monitor the temperature of the skull will make focused ultrasound safer and allow it to be expanded to noncentral targets, like the areas where brain tumors are found.
How did you choose UVA?
I toured a few schools. UVA was versatile in physics, humanities, engineering, and more. It has so many great departments, and frankly it is a great value for everything that it offers in-state students.
What are your future plans?
I am excited to have been hired by a government contracting company. At the beginning of July, I will start work there as a junior data scientist/senior data analyst. I chose this position because I enjoy structured, outlined work with a clear direction. I am looking forward to using my scientific skills to solve problems for different government departments and agencies, such as the US Postal Service.
What are your goals now?
I want to do meaningful work and build on my skills of programming, writing, data analysis, and visualization at my new job. I am also still working on projects for Dr. Myer’s lab, including writing a manuscript that is based on my thesis work.