Dr. Elizabeth Sweeney has been researching multiple sclerosis (MS)—a disease area she is very passionate about—for close to a decade. When she first joined the Department of Population Health Sciences in 2019, one of her goals was to establish a large line of imaging research alongside collaborators at Weill Cornell Medicine. Now, Dr. Sweeney has received the Biostatistics/Informatics Junior Faculty Award from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
According to the National MS Society, the goal of this award is to create protected time for a junior faculty member to collaborate with an established MS research group, while inspiring them to pursue critical questions in MS research throughout their career. Dr. Sweeney will receive three years of partial salary support and up to $20,000 per year for access to datasets.
Throughout the project, Dr. Sweeney is collaborating with a cross-functional team of Weill Cornell Medicine researchers: Dr. Susan Gauthier, associate professor of clinical neurology and one of Dr. Sweeney’s mentors; Dr. Thanh Nguyen, associate professor of physics research in radiology; and Dr. Yi Wang, professor of physics in radiology.
Together, the research team is working with a quantitative susceptibility map (QSM), which maps inflammation on the brain.
“There’s a particular type of lesion called a rim+ QSM lesion, which has active inflammation around the border,” Dr. Sweeney said. “We are first automating algorithms to find these lesions in the brain. We are then aging those lesions, determining how old they are and how long they’ve been in the brain. And then we are using the age and identification to evaluate treatments with those lesions.”
Because conventional MRI is not sensitive to inflammation, QSM serves as an alternative indicator of how treatments are working and allows researchers to see what they haven’t been able to see before.
Dr. Sweeney hopes to continue doing imaging research far beyond this award and create a bigger funding portfolio in the future.
“I love doing imaging research. The main reason is that you look at something and you can see what you do in a picture,” Dr. Sweeney said. “I really enjoy doing analysis and then actually seeing it. Also, I’m very passionate about helping people who have MS.”
As a course director for the Master of Science in Healthcare Policy and Research program, Dr. Sweeney is also looking forward to continuing to mentor graduate students in imaging research. On a broader scale, she would love to eventually be part of a dedicated MS research group at Weill Cornell Medicine.
The Department of Population Health Sciences addresses the intersection of health and practice. Serving as a collaborative and interdisciplinary hub for clinical research, the Department aims to improve the health of populations and reduce inequities through applied research, technological innovations and novel education programs.