Arthur Harrison

Arthur Harrison

PhD Student

Precision Imaging Beacon

Arthur is a physicist undertaking a PhD with the Precision Imaging Beacon. His project is focused on developing hyperpolarized gas MRI techniques, with focus on lung imaging.


How would you explain your research?

Conventional MRI techniques are unsuited to the studying of the lungs. Widespread clinical scanning techniques are limited to those involving x-rays which can pose a risk to the patient due to frequent exposure to ionising radiation. Therefore, there's a need for developing safe MRI methods for investigating pulmonary regions as part of longitudinal studies. One of such methods utilises noble gases as contrast agents for MRI. Instead of detecting signal from organic tissue (typical of conventional MRI), gas MRI scanners resolve the void space within the lung cavities. These techniques give great insight into lung function, including ventilation and gas diffusion through the parenchyma, but also provide information about the alveolar microstructure. However, in order to detect adequate signal, these gases must be laser pumped into a temporary hyperpolarised state. This is generally done via a process known as Spin Exchange Optical Pumping (SEOP), where laser light is used to polarise the noble gas nuclei, via intermediary alkali metal atoms. My research focuses on developing these techniques for the contrast agent xenon, but in particular for krypton, which is a completely novel contrast agent for detecting changes in the lung surface.

Why Nottingham and why the Precision Imaging Beacon?

I completed my undergraduate degree and integrated MSc programme at the University of Nottingham. I’ve always been astounded by the research and innovation going on around me and wanted to be a part of it. As part of my MSc programme, I joined a research group in the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre, developing hyperpolarised gas MRI techniques. I thoroughly enjoyed working as part of this team, contributing to the world leading research in this area. I wanted to pursue a career within this field and I saw no better place to do this than the home of MRI, Nottingham. This research aligns well with the aim of the Precision Imaging Beacon: to provide personalised precision healthcare using advanced imaging techniques.

What inspired you to pursue this area?

I’ve always been passionate about helping others and improving people’s lives. I derive my rationale from the potential impact of my work on the world around me. Throughout my undergraduate physics degree, I was always drawn to modules relating to medical physics and imaging techniques, as these felt the most impactful. Upon the completion of my MSc programme, many of the research job opportunities presented to me were within the oil industry. However, such careers didn’t really align with my own motivations and therefore I chose to pursue a career in medical imaging, for which I already had a passion.

My research is focused on developing these [hyperpolarised gas MRI] techniques for the contrast agent xenon, but in particular for krypton, that is a completely novel contrast agent for changes of the lung surface.

How will your research affect the average person?

Currently, widespread clinical lung imaging techniques are limited to methods involving x-rays. However, these methods can pose a risk to the patient with prolonged exposure due to the ionising radiation. Whilst the small radiation dose from a single x-ray is well within the safe limits, it’s inadvisable to scan a patient numerous times. Reoccurring scans may be necessary to track a patient’s condition in response to a course of medication, allowing for more precise and personalised treatments. Due to the inherent risk associated with ionasing radiation, there's the need to develop of a new generation of safer MRI protocols better suited to longitudinal studies of the lungs. Pulmonary MRI with hyperpolarised noble gas contrast agents is a rapidly developing technique for investigating lung function. As part of my PhD, I will contribute with developments to this technique, ultimately adding to the toolkit at the disposal of clinicians worldwide.

What’s been the greatest moment of your career so far?

The greatest moment of my career so far has been the transition into my PhD programme: to finally be able to use the knowledge I gained during my undergraduate studies to progress into a cutting-edge research environment.

How will being based at UoN and joining Precision Imaging help you achieve your goals?

The Precision Imaging Beacon groups together a wide variety of experts from different research fields to pursue a common goal. As I am starting my career in research, I couldn’t have hoped for a better resource. My background is in physics, but my PhD programme will often take me out of my comfort zone. In times such as these, and thanks to the PI Beacon, I will be able to link up with clinical academics, mathematicians and computer scientists, among other experts across the UoN. 

What aspects of your research and role are you looking forward to?

I’m most looking forward to guiding my own research. During my previous studies, projects have at times felt constrained by time and recourses. However, I’m excited to spend several years fleshing out my own research and seeing where the projects take me.

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