Medical Physicist Maryellen Giger elected to National Academy of Engineering

March 1, 2010

Maryellen Giger

Maryellen L. Giger, PhD, professor and vice chair in the Department of Radiology, has been elected to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering (NAE), part of The National Academies.

Election to the NAE is "among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer," according to the NAE. Membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to "engineering research, practice, or education," especially those who are "pioneering new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/implementing innovative approaches to engineering education."

The honor is particularly distinctive for Giger, one of only two at the University of Chicago -- an institution with no engineering program -- on the Academy's roster. She is listed in the Academy within the bioengineering section.

Giger, who is also chair of the Committee on Medical Physics, director of the Graduate Program in Medical Physics, and a professor in the College and the Comprehensive Cancer Center, was chosen for her "contributions to digital signal analysis for improved cancer detection and treatment, and for innovations in interdisciplinary training."

"This is quite an honor, an unanticipated one," said Giger. "It was a pleasant surprise for me, but more fundamentally it recognizes the research that our team has been conducting for almost 25 years at the University of Chicago and the growing role of computer-assisted diagnosis in medical image interpretation."

Her research focuses on finding new ways to use computers to help radiologists obtain information more effectively and efficiently from medical images such as mammograms, ultrasound images, and magnetic resonance images. She and colleagues have developed and refined the art of computer-aided diagnosis by designing computerized image-analysis systems that can help radiologists find cancers earlier, for example, which can translate to better patient prognosis and longer lives.

Giger's lab has developed new methods for manipulating digital image data to distinguish between tumors and normal tissue, research that began with mammograms and chest X-rays, and has since been extended to multiple imaging technologies for various organ systems as well as additional tasks such as tumor characterization, cancer risk assessment, and image-based biomarker evaluation.

She also studies novel ways to enhance the computer-human interface -- for example, an intelligent workstation for breast images that includes multiple presentation modes of computer-determined probability estimates of malignancy at relevant cancer prevalence levels. In addition, the Giger lab has adapted these methods to assess the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures using image-based measures of bone structure as well as clinical data.

Her "innovations in interdisciplinary training" stem from her role as director of the University's Graduate Program In Medical Physics, in which about 30 pre-doctoral students with undergraduate backgrounds in physics and engineering conduct dissertation research on topics such as imaging theory, acquisition and reconstruction, detector design, computer-aided diagnosis and evaluation, radiation dose analyses, and image-guided radiation therapy. The curriculum includes coursework in imaging and radiation theory and applications as well as biomedical topics.

Giger's newest role at the University has been as director of the Imaging Research Institute, which draws together faculty and staff from various departments to advance the science of imaging and to more closely integrate imaging within translational and clinical studies.

"Maryellen and her team have pushed the boundaries of medical imaging," said Richard Baron, MD, chair of Radiology at the University. "The clarity and accuracy of medical imaging has advanced dramatically in the last decades, and this team led by Professor Giger has enhanced the amount of information we can extract from various images. This has the potential to make a considerable impact on the quality of medical care nationwide."

The author or co-author of more than 300 scientific manuscripts (including more than 150 peer-reviewed journal articles), Giger is the inventor or co-inventor on 25 patents. She is a fellow of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a prior third vice-president of the Radiological Society of North America, immediate past president of the AAPM, and symposium chair of SPIE Medical Imaging.

A 1978 summa cum laude graduate of Illinois Benedictine College where she majored in mathematics, physics, and health sciences, Giger completed her MSc degree in physics at the University of Exeter, England, in 1979, and her PhD degree in medical physics in 1985 at the University of Chicago, where she joined the faculty in 1986. Her research has received funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the American Cancer Society, the Whitaker Foundation, and the Wendy Will Case Cancer Fund, as well as University of Chicago resources. She is also a co-principal investigator for the University of Chicago's $12 million Specialized Programs of Research Excellence breast cancer grant from the National Cancer Institute.

Giger was one of 68 new members in the U.S. and nine foreign associates selected for 2010. This brings the total U.S. membership in the Academy to 2,267 and the number of foreign associates to 196.

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