We strive to understand fundamental relationships between function and structure in living tissues, primarily in neural tissue and in extracellular matrix (ECM). Specifically, we are interested in how microstructure, hierarchical organization, composition, and material properties all affect biological function and dysfunction. We investigate biological and physical model systems, such as “engineered” tissue constructs and tissue analogs at different time and length scales. These physical measurements are guided by mathematical and computational models we develop to 1) aid in the design of experiments, 2) interpret their findings, 3) make new predictions and 4) generate novel hypotheses. Primarily, we use water molecules to probe both equilibrium and dynamic interactions among tissue constituents over a wide range of time and length scales. At macroscopic length scales we vary water content or ionic composition to determine the equilibrium osmo-mechanical properties of well-defined model systems. To probe tissue microstructure and microdynamics, we employ atomic force microscopy (AFM), small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), small-angle neutron scattering (SANS), static light scattering (SLS), dynamic light scattering (DLS), and one-dimensional and multi-dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) relaxometry, diffusometry and exchange. As a means to better understand structure/function relationships, we develop and use physics and engineering principles to understand how observed changes in tissue microstructure and physical properties affect transport processes in tissue, such as the transport of mass, charge, momentum, energy, and magnetization. The latter provides the most direct noninvasive means for characterizing essential transport processes in vivo. Not surprisingly, we use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) transport measurements as a vehicle to translate novel quantitative methodologies we develop, and the understanding we glean from them, from "bench to bedside."

Our tissue sciences activities described above dovetail with our basic, applied and translational research in quantitative imaging, which is intended to generate in vivo measurements and maps of intrinsic physical quantities, such as magnetization, diffusivity, relaxivity, and exchange rates, rather than qualitative images widely used in the practice of clinical radiology. Our quantitative imaging group uses knowledge of physics, engineering, applied mathematics, imaging sciences, and computer sciences, as well as insights gleaned from our tissue sciences research, to discover and develop novel imaging "stains" and "contrasts" that can sensitively and specifically detect changes in tissue composition, microstructure, or microdynamics. Our ultimate goal is to use these new parameters as quantitative imaging biomarkers to assess normal and abnormal development, diagnose childhood diseases and disorders, and characterize degeneration and trauma. MRI is our in vivo imaging method of choice because it is well-suited to many NICHD mission-critical applications, as it is non-invasive, non-ionizing, generally requires no exogenous contrast agents or dyes, and is deemed safe for use with pregnant mothers and their developing fetuses, as well as with children in both clinical and research settings. One technical objective of ours has been to transform clinical MRI scanners into quantitative scientific instruments capable of producing reproducible, accurate, and precise imaging data to measure and map useful imaging biomarkers for pre-clinical and clinical applications, including single scans, longitudinal and multi-center studies, personalized or point-of-care medicine, and for populating curated imaging databases.


SQITS partners with the Uniformed Services University's Neuropathology core to form the Neuropathology-Neuroradiology Integration Core external link.

Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering News: "Teddy Cai Wins Prestigious Scholarship" external link (March 29, 2019)

Video (Zilkha Seminar Series, Keck School of Medicine of USC): “Probing Tissue Structure and Dynamics using MRI” external link (March 13, 2019)

Video (George Mason University Bioengineering Seminar Series): “What can we learn about nervous system structure and function using porous media MR?” external link (February 28, 2019)

Article on study conducted in collaboration with the Fields lab: Astrocytes Regulate Signal Speeds of Neurons. external link (Neuroscience News, October 29, 2018)

Press Release: Neurons absorb and release water when firing, NIH study suggests. (September 13, 2018)

Video (NIH Videocast): NICHD Advisory Council Meeting - September 2018 (Dr. Basser is featured at 2:39:19)

Drs. Basser and Tasaki featured in: Fox, D. (2018). Brain Cells Communicate with Mechanical Pulses, Not Electric Signals. external link Scientific American, (Volume 318, Issue 4), pp.61-67.

BRAIN Initiative: Bridging Gaps in Neuro Knowledge (NIH Catalyst, Volume 25 Issue 6, November–December 2017)

Video (NIH Videocast): "Measuring the latency connectome" (34:00) – Plenary talk, 2017 NIH Research Festival (September 13, 2017)

Medical imaging device developed by NIH researchers awarded U.S. patent (May 19, 2017)

Video (YouTube): "The Invention and Development of Diffusion Tensor NMR and MRI at the NIH" external link, recorded at a conference external link hosted by Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC), January 31 – February 1, 2017

Dr. Derek Jones, Former NIH Mentee, Directs Brain Imaging Center in Wales (NIH Record, July 1, 2016)

Video (YouTube): Dr. Basser featured in "The Human Placenta Project" external link (more information about the Human Placenta Project)

Video (Johns Hopkins University webcast): “Characterizing brain microstructure, architecture and organization with diffusion MRI” external link (February 4, 2014)

Video (YouTube): Dr. Basser featured in "Research for a Lifetime: The Journey Forward" external link to commemorate NICHD's 50th anniversary

Trainee Chinedu Anyaeji selected to participate in the NICHD Scholars Program (The Catalyst, Volume 19, Issue 6, November-December 2011)

"Twitchy Nerves (Literally) May Explain Epilepsy, Pain" on NPR's Morning Edition external link (October 5, 2010)


Dr. Velencia Witherspoon received a Fellows Recruitment Incentive Award (FRIA) renewal for 2020.

Dr. Peter Basser is inducted to the National Academy of Engineering, 2020 external link "For development of diffusion tensor MRI and streamline tractography, transforming the characterization of brain disorders and visualization of nerve fiber pathways."

Dr. Peter Basser is awarded the 2019 Honorary Member Award by the American Society of Neuroradiology external link

From the Deputy Director of Intramural Research's website (screencapture):

Peter Basser, Ph.D., head of the NICHD Section on Quantitative Imaging and Tissue Sciences, has been made an honorary member of the American Society of Neuroradiology, an organization of more than 5,600 neuroradiologists and related professionals.

Basser is a scientist-inventor whose work has transformed how neurological disorders and diseases are diagnosed and treated, and how brain architecture, organization, structure, and anatomical “connectivity” are studied and visualized. He is the principal inventor of Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging (DTI), a non-invasive MRI technology that yields a family of novel features and imaging biomarkers. Quantities that he proposed include the mean apparent diffusion coefficient (mADC) — a DTI-derived parameter widely used to follow changes in stroke and in cancers, and the fractional anisotropy (FA), a robust quantity that makes brain white matter visible. He also proposed and developed “Streamline Tractography,” a means to elaborate white matter pathways, which now helps neuroradiologists plan brain surgeries. More recently, Basser has been a pioneer in the field of “Microstructure Imaging,” which uses MRI data and models of water diffusion in tissue to extract salient micron-scale morphological features. Examples of MRI methods that Basser invented and developed with colleagues include the non-invasive measurement of the mean axon diameter (CHARMED), the axon diameter distribution (AxCaliber), and the mean apparent propagator (MAP) in each voxel. He and members of his lab have also been actively involved in developing multiple pulsed-field gradient (mPFG) methods to measure microscopic diffusion anisotropy, which they reported observing in gray matter as early as 2007. Within the past few years, Basser’s lab has continued to make seminal contributions to neuroradiology, inventing and developing MRI methods to measure and map joint relaxation and diffusion spectra in brain tissue.

Dr. Peter Basser was inducted into the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) College of Fellows (PDF alternative [PDF 510 KB]) for his seminal contributions to the invention, development, and translation of diffusion tensor MRI (DTI), DTI tractography, and several neuro-technologies. (click below image to enlarge).

Dr. Peter Basser is awarded the Victor M. Haughton Award at the October annual meeting of the American Society of Functional Neuroradiology in Portland, OR. (NIH Record, November 17, 2017)

Dr. Ruiliang Bai was elected a Junior Fellow by the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) in 2017. external link

Dr. Ruiliang Bai received the Summa Cum Laude Merit Award at ISMRM 2017 (PDF 147 KB)

Dr. Ruiliang Bai received two Summa Cum Laude awards for outstanding posters at ISMRM 2016 (PDF 133 KB) external link

Dr. Ruiliang Bai received the Young Investigator Award at the 2016 Overseas Chinese Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (PDF alternative [PDF 11 MB])

Dr. Dan Benjamini received the 2016 Giulio Cesare Borgia Prize at MRPM13

Dr. Basser et al. was honored as the author of one of ISMRM's "30 most influential MRM papers" at ISMRM 2014 in Milan, Italy. Photos here: https://twitter.com/alex_leemans/status/466644304342306816

Drs. Peter Basser, Denis LeBihan, and Carlo Pierpaoli receive the Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer at the 2013 FLC Mid-Atlantic Regional Meeting in Leesburg, VA. (PDF alternative [PDF 67 KB])

Peter Basser, 2010 ISMRM Fellow external link

Dr. Basser receives the 2008 ISMRM Gold Medal external link

Carlo Pierpaoli, 2008 ISMRM Fellow external link


Click here for info about the NIH Conference, "Diffusion Tensor MRI: From Bench to Bedside"


Smith, C. external link (2002) NIH commercializes new imaging technique. Nature Medicine 8(9): 906.

NIH Backgrounder, "Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging"


TORTOISE external link

HI-SPEED Software Packets external link


USUHS Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine external link grant: "Development of Bench and Preclinical MRI Methods to Assess Glymphatic Clearance in the Living Brain"

US-Israel Binational Science Foundation grants external link

2018 Bench-to-Bedside Award, funded by Intramural Research Program (Director's Challenge Award): "Localization of Epileptogenic Foci using Diffusion Weighted MRI"

NIH BRAIN Initiative funded awards

The MRI Study of Normal Brain Development

Diffusion – Data Processing Center (DPC)

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