Ultra-high field (UHF) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) lies at the cutting edge of biomedical imaging. It has the potential to provide unique insights into key medical conditions including dementia, cerebrovascular disease and mental health.
Additional government and institutional funding will see the number of 7T scanners in the UK increase from two to five this year. With widespread translational application of UHF MR on the horizon the UK is poised to play a major role in realising this goal.
The University of Nottingham is at the forefront of an ambitious plan to establish a platform for large-scale multi-centre clinical work in UHF 7T MRI and spectroscopy. It has been given the go ahead with the award of a £1.3m Partnership Grant from the MRC to establish a UK7T Network. This capacity building project will also harmonise protocols and enable data sharing across the UK’s five 7T sites at The University of Nottingham, University of Cambridge, Cardiff University, University of Glasgow and the University of Oxford.
Dementia researchers – including work which looks at Parkinson’s disease and Multiple sclerosis - researchers in ageing, neurological and psychiatric disease and drug development will all benefit from the sharing of expertise within the partnership and the capacity for implementation of large and multi-site clinical trials.
Professor Richard Bowtell, whose research at The University of Nottingham’s Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre involves the development of new techniques and hardware for magnetic resonance imaging and their application in biomedical sciences, will lead the project.
Professor Bowtell said: “The University of Nottingham’s links with MRI go back to the 1970 and 1980s when Sir Peter Mansfield was working on the very first MRI equipment with funding from the Medical Research Council, but MRI has continued to reinvent itself over the decades. 7T scanners have evolved significantly over the last decade as they undergo the transition from bespoke research systems to turn-key clinical research tools. Until now they have been used for brain imaging but new technology is also now opening up opportunities for whole body scanning. The five 7T sites already have a good track record of working together and we all look forward to building on this collaboration to establish a vibrant UK7T Network over the next three years.”
Researchers at the five 7T sites will directly benefit from working closely together to optimise a series of standardised protocols that can then be used by the UK7T network and the wider UK MR and clinical research communities to address clinical research questions. The three new UK7T centres (Cambridge, Cardiff and Glasgow) will benefit specifically from the substantial UHF experience and technical expertise of the existing centres in Nottingham and Oxford.
This partnership will accelerate the entry of the new centres into 7T clinical research, realising the benefits of the UK's recent investment in 7T infrastructure through the Clinical Research Infrastructure Initiative and other schemes. The availability of harmonised protocols for functional and anatomical scanning will permit the early planning of clinical trials that require multi-site scanning, initially with a neuro focus.
The new UK7T Network will share expertise, build capacity and develop harmonised approaches to image data acquisition, sharing and analysis that can be deployed in multi-site, clinical studies. Once established the UK7T Network will serve as a platform for future UK-wide, collaborative research programmes in 7T magnetic resonance.
Importance of sharing of data and best-practice
The immediate sharing of data and best-practice procedures will underpin quality assurance across all the partner sites.
The UK7T Network will also train clinical and non-clinical imaging researchers and will prime research on clinical questions, focusing initially on the human brain, but also benefiting body, cardiac and musculoskeletal imaging research.
Specific groups of clinical and non-clinical academic researchers will benefit from the partnership, which will thus help to maintain the UK's world-leading status in medical imaging research. This partnership will also help to create access to state-of-the-art MRI systems on which physicists and engineers will develop the next generation of imaging techniques.
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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK for research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for four years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.
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