Dr. Anne Osborn's grandmother was a bridge player who knew the value of good eyesight and creative observation. "A peek is worth two finesses," was grandma's motto.
It's not a bad motto for a neuroradiologist either, says Osborn. The brain is a crafty and secretive player, after all, and neuroradiologists are always looking for better ways to get a peek at the cards it holds. The alternative to peeking is surgery, which can be tricky in an organ as sensitive as the brain.High-tech techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized axial tomography (CAT scan) have helped Osborn see inside about 50,000 ailing brains during the past 20 years, enough gray matter to make her one of the world's diagnostic experts.
Osborn, chief of neuroradiology at the University of Utah School of Medicine, is also president of the prestigious American Society of Neuroradiology and will preside over the group's annual meeting this week in Orlando, Fla.
The future of neuroradiology includes not only better non-invasive techniques for diagnosis of brain abnormalities, explains Osborn, but non-invasive techniques for repairing the brain as well.
The technology is changing so rapidly, she says, that when a neuroradiologist talks about the long-ago past he may be talking about last year. In fact, when Osborn was a neuroradiology resident at Stanford in the early 1970s, the major diagnostic tools that are so common today - including the CAT scan - were available at only a couple of centers. Today the CAT scan has been upstaged by the MRI, and the MRI is continually being updated with 3-D imaging and ultrasound.
With so many advances appearing so often, it's hard for doctors in outlying areas to keep up. Doctors who see fewer patients are also at a disadvantage when it comes to accurately diagnosing rare problems.
To help bridge this gap, Osborn is working with the University of Utah's Department of Medical Informatics to develop "computer-assisted interactive video education programs." Essentially what the system will do is computerize how Osborn's brain works - a brain that has become adept at diagnosis.
"Our goal is to make everybody an expert," says Osborn, who adds that she will devote the rest of her career to this project.
She didn't start out to be a neuroradiologist, although she has been interested in science since childhood, when she would often turn the Osborn family's only bathroom into a laboratory.
During her senior year in high school she won a first place at the Indiana state science fair for her experiment with DNA synthesis. She moved on to Stanford University and then to Harvard, where she was working on a doctorate in psychology when she decided she really wanted to be a doctor. She moved back to Stanford, where she financed her medical education by selling the drawings and batik she did in her spare time.
Her interest in visual images may have steered her to radiology, but it was the detective work of the speciality that appealed to her most. "It's like playing a super game of Clue," she explains. "You know, did Mrs. Green do it in the dining room with the wrench?"
In the 15 years since Osborn joined the faculty at the University of Utah School of Medicine, she has become not only an expert but an expert's expert. She has been chosen, in fact, to serve a year-long stint, beginning next fall, as a "distinguished scientist" at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C.
In the meantime, Osborn has set off for Florida and the ASNR convention. She and her husband, Ronald Poelman, a member of the LDS Church First Quorum of the Seventy, will host 1,000 neuroradiologists and their families.
"I wanted it to be a family oriented meeting this year, as well as a top-notch scientific meeting," says Osborn. She arranged for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to perform at the convention, followed by another Utah institution - a roomful of desserts.