Six questions with Corey Baron, PhD

Corey Baron, PhD, is using the physics of MRI and diffusion MRI to uncover the mysteries about the mechanisms of disease and to find new biomarkers of neurodegenerative diseases and disorders. It's a highly technical field of research that may help to diagnose diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis earlier, and find more targeted treatments for people living with them before irreversible damage occurs.

"The geek in me loves the technical innovation of this area," said Baron. “But I'm also excited to apply what we are learning about patient care and how we are creating new opportunities to impact the lives of people."

Born and raised in Barrhead Alberta, Baron always enjoyed math and physics and, as he says, tinkering with things. Putting his analytical skills to work he attended the University of Alberta for an engineering degree. Originally, he wanted to pursue computer engineering, but after being exposed to the engineering physics program, he followed that path. A master's degree in electrical engineering followed. With a desire to get more involved with engineering research that impacted the health and well-being of people, he pursued a PhD in biomedical engineering with a focus on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) research.

He continued his research for three years during his postdoctoral position at Stanford University before heading back to Canada and to a position at Robarts Research Institute.

Why did you decide to pursue your research career at Robarts?
After completing my postdoc, I was very keen to return to Canada. Robarts caught my eye because it has one of the best MRI research programs in the country. It is home to the strongest human MRI machine (7T) in the country and, in my opinion, has the best research environment for support and collaboration for the research that I do.

How would you describe the culture at Robarts?
In a word – collaborative. People are so supportive of each other here and they are very willing to work together to start new collaborations with a goal to advance research.

What is the focus of your research?
My research objective is to develop innovative and robust methods to measure new tissue parameters and improve the efficiency of measuring multiple quantitative MRI parameters. Multi-parametric MRI can improve sensitivity and/or specificity for diagnosis. Furthermore, these parameters can potentially be combined with sophisticated tissue models to estimate physiologically meaningful tissue parameters (e.g., cell density).

A key component of this research is the development of advanced diffusion MRI methods, which provide exquisite sensitivity to the cellular microstructural environment. This type of virtual microscopy of the brain will allow characterization of in vivo tissue changes that occur in disorders or normal development/learning, which can help us to understand the brain's complex inner workings, providing insight for the development of interventions or diagnostic tools.

You were recently awarded the Petro Canada Young Innovator Award, what does it mean to you to receive this award?
The Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award program provides funding to new researchers to recognize, promote and support work that is innovative, impacts positively on the learning environment and has potential to be of significance to society. It was really great to be recognized at such an early stage of my career as a principal investigator. It's also very encouraging and keeps me motivated to continue on with my research.

Are you supervising trainees and teaching in addition to your research?
Yes, I have several undergraduate students who are volunteering in the lab, one postdoctoral trainee who started in January and one each of PhD and master's trainees who started this September. My lab is starting to grow and we are starting to see some compelling results, which is exciting. I'm also delivering some lectures and starting to teach a course next term.

Many of the scientists at Robarts are involved in community initiatives, how have you engaged with the community in your short time here?
While it has taken a fair bit of time to get my lab up and running, I have been able to get involved with a few initiatives including being a judge at the Thames Valley Science Fair. It was great to see the amazing work that students were performing. I also helped to organize an MRI/Physics tutorial day that was part of “Brainhack Western”.