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University’s largest ever funding award for UK’s most powerful MRI scanner

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

£29 million national scanning facility will help the UK lead the world in ultra-high field imaging to transform understanding of the brain and treatment of disease

The University of Nottingham has been awarded £29.1 million to establish the UK’s most powerful Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner as a national facility, subject to business case approval. This scanner will give researchers and doctors unprecedented insights into brain function and the mechanisms of human disease.

The funding award, from UK Research and Innovation, is thought to be the largest ever single award received by the University. It is part of a 3-year £481 million injection of funding into the UK’s research and innovation infrastructure, to support ground-breaking research to address global challenges.

The University of Nottingham will work with teams across the UK to establish the 11.7T Tesla MRI scanner as a national facility that will underpin the UK’s goal of retaining its position as a world leader in ultra-high field for brain imaging and spectroscopy. The new ultra-high field scanner will be sited in the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre at the University of Nottingham. Nobel Prize winner Sir Peter Mansfield developed MRI in Nottingham in the early 1970s, revolutionising healthcare across the world.

The capabilities of this new scanner will underpin a broad range of clinical and neuroscience-focused research programmes in the UK. It will be more than 1000 times more powerful than the first scanners developed by the late Sir Peter and will help transform understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s and neurodevelopmental disorders including autism and schizophrenia.

Ultra-high field (11.7T) MRI offers huge benefits in terms of improved sensitivity which will enable higher spatial resolution imaging, faster imaging, and greater sensitivity to physiological changes. The scanner will also provide a step change in the capabilities of magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to provide information about the biochemistry of the human body.

The new insights into brain structure and function provided by the facility will be of immediate benefit to researchers in basic and clinical neuroscience. Previously inaccessible measures of metabolism and organ function in health and disease will be of value across the biomedical community, including the life science and healthcare industries and the NHS. Engineers, physicists and computer scientists will be engaged in the development of new ultra-high field technology.

This bid to establish an ultra-high field scanning facility for the UK was spearheaded by researchers at the University of Nottingham but involved more than 90 researchers from 20 different organisations across the UK whose expertise spans multiple disciplines, and who will help to develop and exploit the new facility.

We are extremely excited that the University of Nottingham, the birthplace of MRI, will host the new ultra-high field scanning facility. We are proud that this remarkable scanner will be housed in the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre, on the campus where my mentor Sir Peter’s breakthrough transformed medicine.
Professor Bowtell, Head of the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre.

The new 11.7T scanner will operate in an extension to the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre on University Park Campus, providing space for visiting researchers, as well as facilities for patients and participants in research studies.

The 117T MRI scanner is expected to come into service in 2025

It will:

  • allow functional MRI measurements to be used to probe the organisation of the brain at an unprecedented level of spatial detail
  • help identify changes in brain architecture and microstructure in neurodegenerative diseases and in a range of neurodevelopmental disorders, opening a new window on the gene-brain interactions that underpin brain health
  • allow measurements of brain metabolism and bioenergetics at volumes that are 10 times smaller than is possible at 3T, opening new ways to study changes in neurochemistry in mental health disorders
  • support the development of new MRI technology and image processing methods, which can also be applied to lower-field scanning
This is thrilling news. The University is renewing its research strategy in 2022 for the next five years and a key aim is to align our exceptional research to strategic and global challenges. Receiving this landmark award from UKRI underlines our commitment to address the big challenges faced by society and this will allow our researchers to further establish the UK as a world leader in ultra-high magnetic field MRI. It is a tremendous accolade and is testament to many years of dedication by Professor Bowtell, Professor Penny Gowland and Professor Dorothee Auer and their colleagues at the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre.
Professor Dame Jessica Corner, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange

UKRI’s Infrastructure Fund portfolio funding will power ground-breaking research across a spectrum of disciplines that will help to tackle a range of societal issues, from the impacts of climate change to adolescent mental health. The projects, located across the UK, will strengthen international capability, and transform expertise across the arts, physics, life and environmental science, social science, medicine and many more research areas.

The University has also benefitted from £3.8m in funding from the UKRI’s Impact Acceleration Account (IAA), which supports critical early-stage translation of UK research to real impacts, transforming public services, creating new jobs, attracting private investment and forging new partnerships with business and charities.

Funding will allow research teams at Nottingham to unlock the value of their work, including early-stage commercialisation of new technologies and advancing changes to public policy and services such as NHS clinical practice.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said:

"The UK is home to world-renowned facilities in a wide range of fields, which act as global hubs for research and innovation. We must ensure that we renew and upgrade that capability to keep pace with technological advances, empowering our researchers and innovators to go further faster.

"Today, we are investing £481 million across the UK that will ensure our talented people, teams and innovative businesses have access to the world-class infrastructure they need to unlock their full potential."

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More information is available from Professor Richard Bowtell at richard.bowtell@nottingham.ac.uk

Rob Ounsworth - Research Communications Manager
Email: robert.ounsworth@nottingham.ac.uk
Phone: 0115 84 66691
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The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. Ranked 18th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2023, the University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its crowning as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide Sports University of the Year twice in three years, most recently in 2021. We are ranked seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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