Dr. Alex MacKay


Physics and Astronomy

Current Research Focus

As well as his faculty position at UBC, Dr. Alex MacKay is Director of the UBC MRI Research Centre and Director of the Medical Physics Program in Physics & Astronomy. His research includes the development of myelin water imaging – a technique that images myelin in the brain and spine. The use of this technique will allow scientists to investigate how MS lesions undergo demyelination and remyelination over time.

Example Project

 “Use of Magnetic Resonance Techniques to Investigate Human Pathology” Nuclear magnetic resonance (MRI) is a powerful technique for investigation of structure and dynamics on an incredibly broad distance scale from the atomic to the macroscopic level. MRI provides excellent soft tissue contrast between different normal tissues and between normal and pathological tissues. Before the full potential of MRI and MRS in medicine can be realized, fundamental research is required to understand the physics behind the NMR signal from tissue. Recently, we have been modeling the microscopic structure of tissue in order to better understand what determines its magnetic resonance signal behaviour. Our research has focused on the development of quantitative interpretations of biomedical NMR results in terms of structure, dynamics and composition at the molecular and cellular levels. We have spent considerable effort studying how to learn about local environments in biological tissue from the water NMR signal. In human brain, we identified a reservoir of water compartmentalized in the myelin component of white matter. Myelin is the insulation of nerve cells and when it is absent nerve signals propagate at a very much slower rate. Our measurements of myelin are providing new fundamental insights into the role of myelin in both normal and abnormal brain. We have worked extensively on myelin degeneration in neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, and phenylketonurea. Our techniques are currently being applied in clinical trials of drugs designed to promote regrowth of myelin in multiple sclerosis brain.

Research Keywords

Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Myelin Water Imaging

First Nations land acknowledegement

We acknowledge that the UBC Point Grey campus is situated on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm.

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