The New Language of Anatomy

Summer 2012

Each week, Miller and his team process several dozen images-sometimes as many as a hundred-that are sent by colleagues from other departments at Hopkins. One of Miller’s most important sources is Marilyn S. Albert, a professor of neurology at the School of Medicine and the director of the Johns Hopkins University Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Albert supervises a longitudinal study of 300 Americans who are known to be at elevated risk for Alzheimer’s, in some cases because close family members have had the disease. The participants in that study have had brain images performed at regular intervals, and Miller’s center oversees the analysis of these images and is also responsible for distributing them to outside investigators.

“Some people who are still cognitively normal have Alzheimer’s pathology in their brains, but don’t yet have easily visible nerve cell loss,” Albert says. “We and a number of other people around the country are trying to identify measures that can predict which people who are cognitively normal will progress to mild impairment and beyond.”

Albert says that Miller is gifted at schooling himself in the language of the biomedical scholars he works with-and also gifted at explaining to doctors the arcane elements of his mathematical models. “The more we work together,” she says, “the more comfortable we become in building these collaborations.”

That kind of collaboration, Miller says, is one of the gifts of being at an institution like Hopkins. Only at a university with an ambitious medical center, he says, would it be possible to develop as many collaborative relationships as he has.

“I’m just one of 500 neuroscientists in the Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University doing this kind of work,” Miller says. “It’s important to keep that perspective. We are all a part of a very big play here.”