Utah Graduate Awarded Young Scientist Publication Impact Award

November 10, 2014


Five years after University of Utah computer science alum Sam Gerber researched a new method of analyzing medical brain scans, he was honored earlier this month for its impact on the field and in the understanding of Alzheimer’s.

Gerber, who conducted his research while a Ph.D. student at the U’s School of Computing and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University in North Carolina, was honored with the Young Scientist Publication Impact Award at the annual Medical Image Computing and Computer Assisted Intervention Society (MICCAI) conference in Boston.

“It’s nice to see that people appreciate the work,” he said. “It got the attention for being something that has benefits for a variety of medical imaging analysis tasks.”

Gerber and his research team at the U, which included School of Computing faculty Ross Whitaker, Sarang Joshi and Tolga Tasdizen, discovered a way to organize a database of brain scans that could be the basis for helping diagnose a patient’s condition. Subsequently, the team presented its paper, On the Manifold Structure of the Space of Brain Images, at a MICCAI conference.

Gerber devised a new approach to leverage information from a huge catalog of images, both of healthy patients and those with conditions such as Alzheimer’s. This approach can help to identify changes in brain structures related to a disease, and a computer can compare a current patient’s brain scan with the database and come up with an accurate diagnosis.

“A new brain scan is processed by the algorithm by finding its position in the organization of the database. Its position then can tell you how likely this is a brain from a healthy or a diagnosed patient,” Gerber explained. “We took one of the databases and organized it in a new way in a geometric structure. We learned that the way we organized it results in a significant correlation with clinical parameters.”

Gerber, who was born and raised in Switzerland, attended the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland in Brugg before he moved to the United States and attended Utah’s flagship computer science program. After he received a Ph.D. in computer science in 2012, he moved to Durham, North Carolina, to begin teaching at Duke.

“I really enjoyed it,” Gerber said of his time at the U. “My research was exciting. My advisor let me work on the project I was interested in and encouraged me to explore many different areas. Plus, I loved Salt Lake City. I loved the mountains, and there were plenty of things to do outside of studying.”

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