NINDS Senior Investigator Daniel Reich
NINDS Senior Investigator Daniel Reich uses advanced MRI techniques to advance scientific knowledge about multiple sclerosis.

Humming along in the corner of Daniel Reich’s lab is a small scientific instrument that you’d expect to see at a tech company or in a design studio. It’s a 3-D printer busily making a customized cutting box that can hold a brain extracted at an autopsy. The indentation at the bottom of the box cradles the brain while the comb-like projections along the sides are used as guides for slicing the brain into thin sections that can be compared with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Reich, a neuroradiologist and senior investigator in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and his group developed the 3-D-printed cutting boxes as part of their research on multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic neuroinflammatory autoimmune disorder of the central nervous system. 

One of the ways that Reich is getting a better understanding of the pathological basis of MS is to do MRI-guided histopathology in which slices of postmortem brain tissue are compared with an MRI scan of the whole brain. That’s where the customized 3-D-printed cutting boxes come in. In the past, it was difficult to obtain a correlation between MRI images and standard pathological sections of a postmortem brain. Tiny lesions that were visible on an MRI scan could be hard to find in actual brain tissue because the sections tended to be relatively thick and the slice faces weren’t always parallel. But the 3-D printer can be programmed to create a mold to fit each brain exactly and have guides that ensured precision slicing. The use of the 3-D-printed cutting boxes can improve the speed, quality, and accuracy of finding—in brain tissue—MRI-identified small lesions that occur in MS and other brain diseases. Now this 3-D technique routinely helps Reich’s lab study the use of MRI as a biomarker for the progression of MS.

Reich’s research is built on decades of MRI data collected at NIH. In the 1980s, NINDS scientist Henry McFarland pioneered the use of MRI to study MS. He was responsible for hiring Reich in 2009 and then mentoring him. In the 1990s and early 2000s, McFarland and Joseph Frank (Clinical Center) used marmosets as a primate model for MS research. Reich and NINDS senior investigators Steven Jacobson and Afonso Silva re-established the model at NIH in 2010.


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