Hao Huang, Ph.D.

Hao Huang, PhD
Hao Huang, Ph.D.

Hao Huang, Ph.D., is applying structural magnetic resonance imaging and analysis techniques, especially those related to a technique called diffusion imaging (including diffusion tensor imaging), to delineate in detail the structures of human and animal brains. He is developing and applying these techniques to both answer biological questions and identify biomarkers for disease progression.

(For more information, see Dr. Huang's laboratory website.)

Diffusion imaging utilizes the water diffusion properties in neural structures like the human brain to noninvasively reveal the detailed anatomy. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), an important type of diffusion imaging, is a technique of producing images of organ structures by mathematically modeling how the diffusion of water is restricted in those structures. For example, normally water would diffuse randomly in a homogeneous biological sample, but in the white matter of the brain, water tends to move along the axons, the cable-like extensions of neurons. Thus, DTI can reveal those structures in great detail.

Dr. Huang’s laboratory is delineating structural development of the human fetal brain and establishing a comprehensive monkey brain atlas with ultra-high-resolution diffusion tensor imaging. His laboratory is also developing the analytic tools to quantify structural connectivity and enhanced tract-based measurements of diffusion-derived metrics. Using these technologies, he and his colleagues have studied clinical disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and major depressive disorder.

Characterizing the structural changes of the human fetal brain is essential to understand the complicated yet highly organized process of brain development. As complex as the human brain is, its origin is a simple tubular structure. DTI is noninvasive, three-dimensional, and requires much less imaging time compared to histological imaging to characterize the entire brain anatomy with modern scanners. Moreover, its digital character makes it easily distributed and adopted as structural references for developmental study in both basic neuroscience and clinical diagnosis. Hence, the comprehensive digital 2D/3D qualitative and quantitative structural information from DTI/MRI fills a gap in the knowledge of human brain development.

In clinical applications, Dr. Huang is using DTI to map the brain's white matter — the tissue comprising neurons and their insulating myelin sheaths — in people with Alzheimer's disease, comparing those maps with those of normal brains. He has found that such mapping enables accurate and comprehensive examination of the white matter tracts and determination of the disruption of those tracts in affected brains.

Besides applying diffusion tensor imaging to map neural structures, Dr. Huang is also working to improve DTI-related technologies. He is developing techniques to quantify structural connectivity in the human brain. Such quantitative measures could greatly enhance understanding of brain function because they will yield information that reveals the wiring diagram of such connectivity.

For publication information please view Dr. Huang's faculty profile.