Ilhan Bok

PPortrait of Ilhan Bok in front of a whiteboard filled with diagrams and illustrations.hD student, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Faculty advisor: Aviad Hai

Ilhan Bok is a doctoral student in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Originally from Madison, he began his PhD program in fall of 2020. Since then, his research on magnetic particle imaging has earned journal articles and campus news coverage for paving the way for scientific advances in brain and organ imaging.

In neuroscience, there are currently no efficient ways to take images of large swaths of the brain without compromising the quality of those images, Bok explains. Magnetic particle imaging (MPI) is a new approach that can create images more quickly and with better resolution than more commonly used tools like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MPI works by tracing concentration of nano-scale magnetic particles throughout organ systems, including the brain.

“Magnetic particle imaging with nano-transducers has untapped potential to improve our understanding of neurobiological processes and neurochemical dysfunction,” Bok says. “The simplicity, affordability, and high resolution of this imaging platform offer a competitive advantage over existing modalities [like MRI].”

Bok’s research aims to prepare the lab’s brain imaging techniques for use in clinical settings. He focuses on modeling and testing the viability of various nanosensors. Finding the best particles to use will allow MPI to provide real-time imaging of organs, even complex organs like the brain.

In a May 2022 paper published in Scientific Reports, Bok, his advisor Aviad Hai, and undergraduate students tested the feasibility of magnetoelectric particles as nanosensors using computer models. The results provided theoretical evidence for using such particles in brain imaging. Bok received WARF funds through the Fall Research Competition and a UW–Madison Global Health Institute Graduate Student Research Award to support the project.

“The financial support from the Graduate School has enabled and expedited a large set of research activities for me by facilitating procurement of resources and equipment,” Bok said. “This support coupled with the accessible and equitable academic milieu at UW–Madison has impacted me as an individual and as a researcher in a highly positive way.”

Bok has also used the techniques he’s honed through his research to test how particle size, clustering, and geometry affect MRI signaling. The results confirmed a longstanding theory about how MRIs work and were published in Magnetic Resonance in Medicine. In both projects, Bok, Hai, and their collaborators have made their code available online to help other labs build on their work.

In the future, Bok says that MPI will likely expedite medical imaging capabilities, including in developing countries and places that currently lack medical imaging resources. His work identifying which particles function best as specialized, high-resolution sensors for MPI will further accelerate those advances and pave the way for more breakthroughs.

“Applying MPI for clinical brain imaging has the potential to revolutionize how neurologists treat and monitor brain disorders, but this has still not been fully established due to challenges regarding sensitivity, resolution, imaging speed, and safety,” Bok said. “MPI has the potential to bridge the gap between medical research and the burdens of disease experienced by humanity, enabling the advancement of all sectors of human health.”