Meet Our Students: Erica Mason And The Clinical Potential Of Magnetic Particle Imaging

September 1, 2016


Erica Mason

Graduate student Erica Mason is as diligent and industrious as they come. Since joining the Wald Group in the MGH Martinos Center in January 2015, she has immersed herself in a project developing an innovative technology for the imaging of breast cancer, tackling the many facets of the project with no small amount of skill and finesse.

We spoke with Erica about her work in the Center—about how she’s been spending her time and what drew her there in the first place. Here’s what she told us.

She was attracted to the Martinos Center because of the “novelty and scope” of its research projects, and now is working on development of a cutting-edge imaging modality: Magnetic Particle Imaging (MPI), which takes advantage of the magnetization of iron oxide nanoparticles to generate signal

“MPI caught my interest because, as such a new field, it has so much untapped potential,” she said. “I’ve been able to work on numerous aspects of the project, including furthering our understanding of the physics governing MPI—much of which is still not fully understood. I’ve particularly enjoyed this aspect given my undergraduate background in physics. My previous research in an experimental Atomic / Molecular / Optics physics lab also helped prepare me for much of my hardware work here.”

She is deeply involved in both hardware and software development, giving her unique experience with—and insight into—the many facets of formulating an innovative imaging modality

“On the hardware side, I have worked on designing, constructing and testing the first MPI apparatus to be built at the Martinos Center. On the software side, I’ve been developing a simulation of MPI signal generation and subsequent image reconstruction. The simulation is currently being used to develop MPI-specific sensitivity maps of receive coils to test faster reconstruction methods, such as partial-field-of-view projection reconstruction, and in the future will be used to test designs for MPI systems.

“The goal for my PhD work is to expand the current MPI detector to include image reconstruction methods, and to design a system for human screening for detection and imaging of breast cancer.”

She says the Martinos Center has provided an “unparalleled opportunity” to work alongside outstanding researchers in the variety of fields that are necessarily engaged in the development of biomedical imaging technology

“I’ve had opportunities to learn one-on-one from experts in multiple areas of medical imaging research—from electrical engineering to coil hardware to software and reconstruction; from physicists and engineers to clinicians. The opportunity to learn directly from these experts and their cutting-edge research has been invaluable in my skill development as a researcher and graduate student.”