Associate Professor

Brian Nieman

PhD, University of Toronto

The Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute
Mouse Imaging Centre, Toronto Centre for Phenogenomics, 25 Orde Street, Toronto, Ontario Canada M5T 3H7
Research Interests
Biomedical Imaging, Cancer Diagnosis and Therapy, Neuroscience

At A Glance

  • Study of cancer treatment induced “late effects”, which cause learning, memory and attention impairments in childhood cancer survivors
  • Emphasis on treatment of brain tumours and leukemia, the two most common childhood cancers
  • Evaluation of the impact radiation and chemotherapy on brain growth in children
  • Combination of human studies and mouse models
  • Magnetic resonance imaging in cancer models
  • Development of new 3D imaging tools
  • Phenotyping in mouse disease models

Short Bio

Brian Nieman is a scientist at the Mouse Imaging Centre (MICe) at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and a Level 2 Investigator with the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. His current research focuses on development of cellular imaging methods and evaluating the impact of paediatric cancer treatment on development, with particular focus on the brain. Brian received his PhD in 2006 from the Department of Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto. His thesis described the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods for the analysis of mouse models of human disease. From 2006 to 2009, he trained as a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. Daniel H. Turnbull at the New York University School of Medicine. His post-doctoral work featured development of MR imaging methods for study of mouse development—including in utero imaging of late stage embryos—and cellular imaging for study of neural progenitor cell migrations during homeostasis and disease in the brain. Brian started as a scientist at MICe and SickKids in 2009 and was appointed to Medical Biophysics in 2010.

Research Synopsis

Identification of radiation treatment impact on brain development. Radiation therapy is an integral part of treament for pediatric brain tumours and for high-risk leukemias, but is also associated with the generation of late-appearing side effects including cognitive, behavioural, and psychological impairments. This dramatically impacts quality of life in children who survive cancer. A means of eliminating or treating these “late effects” is urgently needed, but the mechanism by which they appear is not clear. Dr. Nieman’s group has characterized the anatomical phenotypes seen in childhood cancer survivors who were treated with radiation therapy. Their results showed white matter volume deficits, as well as significant changes in gray matter morphology, including increased cortical thickness and decreasing hippocampal volume. Comparison of these observations side-by-side with results from mouse models showed remarkable similarities overall. On this basis, the Nieman group has conducted detailed characterization of the time course, dose dependence, and age dependence in a mouse model. Ongoing work will map sensitivity after focal treatments and in mice with modified radiation response.

Characterization of chemotherapy impact on brain development. Like radiation, chemotherapy impacts brain development and results in late-appearing side effects that impair learning, memory and attention in many childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia survivors. The Nieman group is working closely with other SickKids investigators to characterize how chemotherapy affects brain growth and to determine how this relates to performance on cognitive and behavioural tests. As modern chemotherapy is very complicated, including ~10 chemotherapy agents administered over as long as 3 years, identifying the key cause of brain impairments is no small undertaking. The Nieman group is using mouse models to understand how each aspect of treatment impacts the brain and its development with the goal of isolating the most damaging components of the chemotherapy treatment with the goal of developing strategies to eliminate late effects.

Imaging of mouse development in utero and postnatally. Mouse MRI historically has been restricted to a small number of anatomical regions, in part because long scan times result in a high likelihood of motion-related artifact over much of the body. Dr. Nieman developed a method combining imaging and registration tools to improve image quality for a number of imaging applications. This has shown benefit in imaging of the mouse brain, the adult mouse heart, the embryonic brain in utero and, ultimately, produced time-lapse movies of the beating embryonic heart in utero. This significantly expands the range of applications for mouse MRI, enabling longitudinal studies of development from embryonic stages through adulthood.

Development of cellular imaging in the mouse brain. Particular cell populations play more prominent roles in homeostasis or disease pathogenesis than others, a fact that motivates development of cell-specific imaging. Dr. Nieman has used iron-oxide particles to label endogenous neuroblasts (NBs) in the subventricular zone (SVZ), which are a particularly important in homeostasis of the olfactory bulb. This allowed quantification of the temporal dynamics of NB migrations, showing that cells en route to the olfactory bulb are able to travel at speeds of ~100 µm/hr. His group has used similar approaches to evaluate heterogeneity in tumour proliferation over time, revealing characteristic differences between mouse models of glioma development. Dr. Nieman’s group is also investigating proteins that may be responsible for sequestering manganese, an important contrast agent in mouse MRI, which may become useful for cell imaging in future.

Recent Publications

  • B. J. Nieman, K. U. Szulc, D. H. Turnbull. Three-dimensional, in vivo MRI with self-gating and image coregistration in the mouse. Magn Reson Med 2009; 61(5):1148-1157. DOI 10.1002/mrm.21945 PMID 19253389
  • B. J. Nieman, J. Y. Shyu, J. J. Rodriguez, D. H. Turnbull. In vivo MRI of neural cell migration dynamics in the mouse brain. NeuroImage 2010; 50(2):456-464. DOI 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.12.107 PMID 20053381
  • L. M. Gazdzinski, K. Cormier, F. G. Lu, J. P. Lerch, C. S. Wong, B. J. Nieman. Radiation-induced Alterations in Mouse Brain Development Characterized by MRI. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 84(5):e631-e638, 2012. DOI 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2012.06.053 PMID 22975609
  • B. J. Nieman, A. E. de Guzman, L. M. Gazdzinski, J. P. Lerch, M. M. Chakravarty, J. Pipitone, D. Strother, E. Bouffet, S. Laughlin, U. Bartels, N. Laperriere, J. Hukin, C. Fryer, L. Riggs, J. Skocic, D. J. Mabbott. White and Gray Matter Abnormalities after Cranial Radiation in Children and Mice. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 93(4):882-891. DOI 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2015.07.2293 PMID 26530758

Graduate Students

Ramy Ayoub
Sun Eui Choi
Jonas Yeung