Omer Demirel Awarded American Heart Association’s pre-Doctoral Fellowship

Doctoral student Omer Demirel was recently awarded the American Heart Association’s pre-doctoral fellowship for his research titled “Rapid High Resolution Whole Heart Perfusion MRI for Evaluation of Coronary Artery Disease.” The fellowship starts at the beginning of 2020 for an amount of $31,000. It is a competitive national award, and applicants are required to submit a research proposal in the style of an NIH grant proposal. 

Omer is a third year student with research interests in image processing, new acquisitions, and reconstruction techniques to address accelerated imaging and robust reconstruction in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). He is working under the guidance of Prof. Mehmet Akçakaya.

Currently, most MRI techniques are limited in their ability to show small structures across the whole heart. While faster imaging methods have been proposed for MRI, they do not yet achieve the desired goals. Under the AHA fellowship, Omer’s goal is to develop new strategies to acquire and generate imaging data using advanced image processing techniques. These will substantially improve what can be seen in a cardiac MRI (CMR) exam by providing high resolution images, thereby improving disease detection. The success of this undertaking will directly impact AHA’s mission to improve heart health, develop better treatment, and reduce fatalities from cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

For Omer, pursuing research in medical imaging seems a natural calling. His mother is a physician in an Istanbul cardiovascular surgery and research hospital, and he has seen the importance of imaging devices in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiac disorders, close at hand. With coronary artery disease accounting for one in six deaths in the United States, and current gold-standard techniques being invasive, and carrying risks associated with ionizing radiation, Omer feels driven to pursue innovations in the radiation-free non-invasive approach of MRI. 

His current undertaking focuses on simultaneous multi-slice (SMS) imaging in CMR for better coverage and higher resolution. In the course of his work, Omer has developed two new reconstruction methods to enhance image quality in different imaging in CMR: a regularized reconstruction technique, and a technique that improves image quality in highly accelerated SMS cine and perfusion imaging. Parts of these techniques were presented at the ISMRM 2019 and EUSIPCO 2019.

Acquiring all the data for an MRI image can be a time-consuming process. Accelerated imaging overcomes this drawback through creating a clinically usable image while acquiring fewer data-points. It also offers the advantage of improved spatio-temporal resolution, which can reveal more details about the underlying image. However, accelerated imaging results in images that suffer from aliasing, slice cross-talk, and noise artifacts, all of which affect image quality. With the aid of the AHA Fellowship, Omer will tackle this challenging task by improving both the acquisition and reconstruction of highly accelerated SMS CMR. On the acquisition side, he aims to implement outer volume suppression methods to reduce unwanted signals around the heart, such as chest and back fat, that may lead to artifacts in accelerated imaging. On the reconstruction side, he is addressing the shortcomings of existing methods, which cannot reduce noise and slice cross-talk at the same time, by developing new algorithms that reduce these possible artifacts simultaneously.

Omer Burak Demirel is the recipient of multiple travel awards and fellowships including the Gary H. Glover Fellowship, and the Bruce J. Bergman Graduate Fellowship. His web site offers more information about his research, and publications.