Molecular Imaging and the ‘Martinos Galaxy’: Jacob Hooker shows us the stars

The Martinos Center’s Jacob Hooker is standing in front of a crowded room in a gleaming building in Boston’s Seaport District. On a screen above him is an image with seemingly countless circles of different colors and sizes. Big green ones. Small blue ones. And so on.

He refers to the image as the “Martinos galaxy.” The circles, he explains, represent individual Martinos Center investigators: stars within the galaxy. The size of each circle reflects the number of papers the investigator has published over the years; the lines connecting it to other circles, co-authorship with fellow Center researchers. Clusters of stars signify individual labs within the Center or other groups of closely aligned investigators.

There’s a great deal to be gleaned from all of this.

Because of the almost unfathomable distances in space, and the amount of time it takes for light to travel from faraway stars to curious eyes here on Earth, the study of galaxies is necessarily the study of what has come before. As Hooker notes, when we look at galaxies, we are viewing the past hoping to make predictions about the future. So it is in astronomy, and so it is in a study of the growth of the Martinos Center.

If you map out the growth of individual clusters in the Martinos galaxy, for example, you will see that it is often driven by the introduction of new technology. “The history of the Martinos Center tells us how this works,” Hooker says. “We bring in a Connectome scanner and a program emerges around it. We bring in a 7T scanner and a program springs up around it.”

So what can this tell us about the future of the Center?

What’s interesting about molecular imaging, Hooker continues, is that the introduction of new technologies – in this case, probes – can be accomplished on much shorter timescales than with other imaging modalities. Whereas installing a new Connectome or 7T scanner is maybe a once-in-a-five-year event, new molecular imaging probes can be discovered and developed relatively quickly. Accordingly, in the Center, “what you see is a network of individuals or groups that are making lots of bets, with new programs growing out of those that turn out to be useful or translatable.”

The upshot? Encouraging these “small, catalytic programs” can lead to important growth in the Center, especially as the molecular imaging effort is increasingly intertwined with others throughout the Center: as with magnetic particle imaging, etc. Thus, promoting the programs can help to make the galaxy an even more expansive, more intriguing place.

Gary Boas

Watch a “Martinos Galaxy” video presentation based on Hooker’s slides below. Be sure to turn up your volume for the full “galaxy” effect.