Scott Widemon, MD, Receives 2021 William N. Hanafee Research Grant

Scott Widemon, MD, third-year radiology resident and recipient of the 2021 William N. Hanafee Research Grant

Third-year radiology resident R. Scott Widemon, MD, was awarded the 2021 William N. Hanafee Research Grant from the American Society of Head and Neck Radiology (ASHNR) for his project, "Microstructural Abnormalities of the Olfactory Tracts in Recovered COVID-19 Patients with Persistent Olfactory Dysfunction." The award, totalling $25,000, was presented at the ASHNR Annual Meeting in September to Dr. Widemon and his faculty advisor, Gul Moonis, MD.

The grant, established in 2010 in honor of neuroradiology pioneer William N. Hanafee, MD, is presented annually to support the preliminary pilot phase of a scientific project with a focus on head and neck imaging.

Dr. Widemon's research uses novel imaging techniques to evaluate olfactory tract integrity within the central nervous system in COVID-19 patients most affected by persistent olfactory dysfunction. Prior studies have used standard structural MRI sequences (T1, T2, FLAIR) to examine the olfactory bulbs and olfactory tracts of COVID-19 patients with olfactory dysfunction, but the findings remain inconclusive.

"There has been no attempt to probe microstructural changes of the central nervous system in recovered COVID-19 patients," says Dr. Widemon. His team proposes to use diffusion tensor imaging, a high-resolution MRI technique that looks at tissue microstructure, on COVID-19 patients with olfactory dysfunction. They hypothesize that high-resolution imaging will identify microvascular damage of the olfactory bulb and olfactory tracts among COVID-19 patients whose loss of smell has continued for more than six months after infection.

Loss of smell, or olfactory dysfunction, is a common early symptom among patients infected with SARS-CoV-2. Research has shown that more than 15 percent of COVID-19 patients experience lasting olfactory dysfunction, with a severe impact on quality of life. Further research will be critical to identifying opportunities for intervention and treatment.

Dr. Widemon's research is being conducted in collaboration with faculty from the Departments of Radiology, Otolaryngology, and Neurology at CUIMC. In addition to Dr. Moonis, the research team includes Jonathan Overdevest, MD, PhD, assistant professor of otolaryngology—head and neck surgery at CUIMC; Yunglin Gazes, PhD, assistant professor of neuropsychology; and Sachin Jambawalikar, PhD, assistant professor of radiology at CUIMC.

The grant will fund advanced MRI imaging on approximately 30 patients at the Columbia Radiology MRI Center at the Neurological Institute of New York.

Dr. Widemon is a graduate of Columbia's Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.