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MRI: new insights into our bodies

MRI or magnetic resonance imaging, first developed in Nottingham by Nobel Prize winner Sir Peter Mansfield in 1977, revolutionised medicine and is used countless times a day in hospitals across the world, transforming the understanding of disease and the way our bodies work.

Professor Sue Francis, Professor Penny Gowland and colleagues at the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre (SPMIC) are pioneering new quantitative Magnetic Resonance Imaging methods to non-invasively study the processes happening in our bodies.

Researchers and clinicians can use these approaches to assess the function of individual organs, and the interactions between organs, enabling innovative studies of disease processes and responses to therapies.

In collaboration with Professors Robin Spiller and Luca Marciani of the National Institute of Health Research Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre, the SPMIC has provided new windows into studying gastro-intestinal function. Working with Professor Dileep Lobo (NIHR Nottingham BRC), and Professors Nicholas Selby and Maarten Taal of the University’s Centre for Kidney Research and Innovation, quantitative MRI has provided new ways to understand kidney function. Nottingham together with Fresenius Medical Care performed the world’s first intradialytic MRI studies, where patients underwent dialysis in an MRI machine, to provide new information on how dialysis affects heart, kidney and brain function.

The University’s MRI innovations have been used by the medical technology and pharmaceutical sectors to inform policies of regulators and licensing agencies.

"These MRI tools provide unprecedented information about where and when things happen in our bodies."

In partnership with multinational Baxter Healthcare and BBraun, SPMIC studies influenced international guidance on improved fluid therapy (NICE Guidelines: Intravenous fluid therapy in adults in Hospital, 10 December 2013 and five European guidelines). Our work allowed industry and regulators to assess the health benefits of food products from Unilever and Zespri International Limited. In the area of pharmaceutical testing, our data has informed US Food and Drug Administration standards and provided key information for the development of the first simulation software for predicting the action of drugs.

Fundamental research into the biological effects of the electromagnetic fields required for MRI, was used to ensure changes to an EU Directive, which resulted in MRI remaining available to 600 million people across the EU, with huge benefits for healthcare, and the economy.

Professor Francis was made a Fellow of the International Society of Magnetic Resonance in Medicine in 2020 “in recognition of sustained contributions to MRI” and in the same year Professor Gowland was awarded the Institute of Physics Peter Mansfield Medal and Prize for “being an outstanding world-class scientist who has made major contributions in developing novel techniques for quantitative Magnetic Resonance Imaging.”

Nottingham continues to expand the use of MRI to help diagnose and manage the treatment of patients. New imaging capabilities, big data analysis and biophysical modelling, will support new diagnostic tests and the discovery of new biomarkers for earlier disease diagnosis and the development of personalised treatments for chronic diseases of the lungs, liver, gut, kidney and musculo-skeletal system, as well as neurological disorders.

Penny Gowland and Sue Francis 

Penny Gowland and Sue Francis are Professors of Physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy, and are based at the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre.

Further reading

Mian,O.S.,Li,Y., Antunes, A.,Glover,P.M.,Day, B.L.,Effect of head pitch and roll orientations on magnetically induced vertigo,The Journal of Physiology

Antunes, A., Glover, P. M., Li,Y., Mian,O.S.,Day,B. L.,Magnetic field effects on the vestibular system: calculation of the pressure on the cupula due to ionic current-induced Lorentz force,Physics in Medicine & Biology

Chowdhury, A.H., Cox, E.F., Francis, S.T., Lobo, D.N., A randomized, controlled, double-blind crossover study on the effects of 2-L infusions of 0.9% saline and plasma-lyte® 148 on renal blood flow velocity and renal cortical tissue perfusion in healthy volunteers, Ann Surg256

Intradialytic Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging to Assess Cardiovascular Responses in a Short-Term Trial of Hemodiafiltration and Hemodialysis

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