Stevens INI welcomes new faculty member Xingfeng Shao

Stevens INI welcomes new faculty member Xingfeng Shao

Xingfeng Shao, PhD, USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute

The Keck School of Medicine of USC’s Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute (Stevens INI) is proud to announce the appointment of Xingfeng Shao, PhD, to assistant professor of research radiology. Shao received his PhD in biomedical engineering from USC under the guidance of Stevens INI’s Danny JJ Wang, PhD, professor of neurology and radiology, and director of imaging technology innovation.

“It is a great pleasure to welcome Dr. Shao to our faculty team. He is already making great strides in his work, including the development of a new technology called zoomed 7T perfusion functional MRI and, along with Dr. Wang, the creation of a new MRI method called diffusion-prepared arterial spin labeling,” says Stevens INI Director Arthur W. Toga, PhD.

Zoomed 7T perfusion functional MRI is immensely helpful with the complex and intricate task of mapping brain activity, which is key to understanding dynamic activities of neural circuits – connections between brain cells across cortical layers and among brain regions. The technology has high sensitivity for detecting blood flow changes in tiny arteries and capillaries throughout the many layers of the cortex. It can also measure blood flow on a fine-grained scale, enabling researchers to remove unwanted signals for an accurate read of activity from region to region across cortical layers. This work has gained recognition and a video representing this technology even caught the eye of former NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, which he recently featured on his blog.

Shao’s research also focuses on advanced imaging techniques to study the brain’s blood vessels, giving researchers a window into how fluids and molecules move in the brain via the blood-brain barrier (BBB). In healthy subjects, the BBB prevents harmful substances from entering the brain. But problems with the BBB are increasingly linked to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Wang and Shao developed a new MRI method called diffusion-prepared arterial spin labeling (DP-ASL) that can detect subtle changes in BBB dysfunction by measuring water exchange across the BBB.

One of the hallmark pathologies associated with Alzheimer’s disease is the presence of amyloid plaques on the brain. While these plaques can be seen using a scan called PET (positron emission tomography), this type of scan is typically used to confirm a diagnosis once a patient is already experiencing cognitive impairment, meaning irreversible damage has been done to the brain. Recent advances in Alzheimer’s research have led scientists like Shao to look at the BBB in the hope of catching the disease at earlier stages, before amyloid plaques form, with the goal of finding treatment and prevention opportunities.

“The brain is the only organ in the body that has its own protective layer, which keeps us cognitively healthy. Our work shows growing evidence that BBB dysfunction may represent a link between small vessel disease and clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. By developing more advanced imaging techniques and technologies, we aim to catch dysfunction in the brain sooner and provide insights into prevention and treatment of AD and dementia,” notes Shao.

In addition to his research, Shao will also co-lead the Neuroimaging Data Acquisition with Magnetic Resonance Imaging course in the USC Master of Science in Neuroimaging and Informatics program at the Stevens INI.

“Sharing and collaboration are at the core of scientific research. I’m genuinely excited to contribute through my work, but also through mentoring my students this coming fall. I’m thrilled about all my new faculty position has to offer, including expanding the field of neuroimaging through teaching and mentorship,” says Shao.

The Stevens INI houses a Siemens Magnetom Prisma, a 3 Tesla MRI scanner, and a Siemens Magnetom 7T MRI scanner. Faculty at the Stevens INI, including Wang and Shao, are eager to collaborate with other departments using these high-resolution high-field imaging capabilities for both neuroscientific research and clinical applications. For more information about how you can use the Siemens Magnetom Prisma, the 3 Tesla MRI scanner, or the Siemens Magnetom 7T MRI scanner for your own research, please contact Sidney Taiko Sheehan at