San Diego Business Journal

UCSD and the Salk Institute have joined forces to build the largest brain-imaging facility dedicated to research on the West Coast.

The $13.5 million building will be located next to the UCSD School of Medicine in La Jolla and house four powerful imaging devices , two for human studies and two for animals.

Richard Buxton, director of the new center and a UCSD professor of radiology, said functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) , a machine that produces images of the brain's structure , is a powerful tool. It allows researchers to study behavior, visual perception and attention, learning and memory, and language development.

Additionally, fMRI helps researchers to probe regions of the brain that don't function normally in disorders, such as stroke and epilepsy and study degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Larry R. Squire, a researcher at UCSD and the VA Medical Center, said the human brain has been, in many ways, like a "black box." Using fMRI allows researchers to look inside the "black box" and study problems in memory and disorders.

More than 40 investigators at UCSD, Salk and the San Diego Veterans Affairs Medical Center have been collaborating on fMRI research in their spare time, UCSD reported.

Their work over the last five years builds a platform for interdisciplinary research using fMRI.

Construction of the 6,500-square-foot facility is scheduled to start Nov. 6. The facility is anticipated to be finished in October 2001.

RBB Architects Inc. of Los Angeles designed the facility and the general contractor is Soltek Pacific of San Diego, UCSD reported.

Dr. Ruth Covell, associate dean, UCSD School of Medicine, said fund-raising efforts for the center will continue while the facility is being built.

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HIV Drug Use Up: The county Department of Health and Human Services released a report Oct. 24 pointing to a rise of HIV-infected intravenous-drug users.

The report suggested between 10,000 and 15,000 people in the county use needles to inject illegal drugs.

By 1999, nearly one in four AIDS cases reported had a direct history of intravenous drug use or contracted AIDS through sexual contact with drug users.

Local access to drug rehabilitation centers continues to be a problem for many, the report said.

The study found while the majority of AIDS cases involved were gay men, those numbers were falling.

Instead, the number of AIDS cases resulting from intravenous drug use rose from 2 percent in 1984 to 13 percent in 1999, with one in four cases last year linked to either direct or indirect exposure to injection drugs.

The problems associated with HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, among needle users, their partners and their offspring will continue to plague the community, according to the report.

The real number of intravenous drug users in the county could be as high as 28,000, the report suggested.

Needle-sharing was reported by 80.6 percent of intravenous drug users in a 1998 study. The practice is known to spread life-threatening diseases, including AIDS and hepatitis B and C.

As of Sept. 30, 7 percent of the 10,553 AIDS cases in the county were women. The percentage of women with AIDS has risen to nearly 33 percent among drug users, according to the report.

Send biotech news to Marion Webb at mwebb@sdbj.com.