New Faculty: Wei Gao, PhD

Wei Gao, PhD (right), director of neuroimaging research at Cedars-Sinai, with postdoctoral scientists Andrew Salzwedel, PhD (left) and Suzanne Pendl, PhD, who work with him.

Wei Gao, PhD, has joined Cedars-Sinai as director of neuroimaging research, a new position in the Biomedical Imaging Research Institute, the Department of Biomedical Sciences and the S. Mark Taper Foundation Imaging Center that will promote cross-departmental studies in this field.

Gao is a "rising star" in neuroimaging research, particularly in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), according to the institute's director, Debiao Li, PhD, professor of Biomedical Sciences and Imaging. This technique employs MRI technology to measure brain activity and connectivity by detecting associated changes in blood flow and oxygen level.

In his research, Gao strives to improve understanding of the neurophysiological mechanisms that underlie normal and abnormal human brain development and adult brain disorders. He applies advanced neuroimaging technologies, combined with biological, behavioral and neuropsychological measurements, to probe how the brain develops and functions.

"The ultimate goal is to explore imaging-based ways to achieve early diagnosis and identification of risks before symptom onset so that we can intervene early for better outcomes," Gao said. "This is critical for both developmental disorders and adult brain diseases."

Gao, who assumed his new position July 1, will work closely with the Departments of Imaging, Pediatrics and Biomedical Sciences on imaging-based research on infants, particularly those at higher risk for developmental problems later in life. He also will work with the Departments of Imaging, Neurology and Neurosurgery to tackle adult-onset brain diseases and disorders.

"I hope we can establish a patient-oriented neuroimaging research program featuring extramural funding, high-impact publications and dedicated training. My aim is to create a nationally acclaimed program that is extensive but also has unique strengths in several key research directions," Gao said.

According to Barry D. Pressman, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Imaging, Gao’s appointment "will allow for a quantum jump in the ability of the neuro team in the Department of Imaging to collaborate with the Biomedical Imaging Research Institute in MR research — particularly in the burgeoning fields of fMRI and combined positron-emission tomography and MR."

Gao earned his PhD from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where he was a tenure-track assistant professor before coming to Cedars-Sinai. He said he was drawn to Cedars-Sinai by its world-class medical imaging research facility and its long-standing commitment to excellence in clinical care and biomedical research.

"Such a mission creates the best environment for translational research that has the greatest potential to benefit patients, which is exactly what I am seeking in my career," he said.