MRC Funding

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Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre’s (CUBRIC) vision is to understand the brain in health and disease through advanced imaging methods, tuned to reveal relevant and specific features of brain structure and function. The quest for better research, diagnostic and prognostic measurement tools in medicine has pushed magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) towards higher field strengths. The great increase in biological information available from moving to 7 Tesla for MRI and spectroscopy will bring a disproportionate benefit to UK experimental medicine, especially in disorders of the central nervous system.

Effective treatments remain elusive for many diseases affecting the central nervous system including neurodegenerative, neurodevelopmental, neuroinflammatory and psychiatric disorders. To advance experimental medicine in these areas better measurements of brain structure and function are needed to understand underlying disease mechanisms and to better stratify patient sub-groups with distinct disease mechanisms and treatment responses. Ultra-high field (7T) MRI offers a significant advance in brain imaging technology that can yield such measurements. 7T MRI will also give us sensitive ways of measuring whether a new treatment is working and so help us speed up the development of drugs and interventions to promote the brains own repair.

The support from the MRC for MRI hardware and complementary measurement technologies to optimize 7T MRI data quality and develop multi-modal imaging approaches will be augmented by large-scale support from Cardiff University for imaging methods-focused and clinical research fellows. Cardiff’s investment in people will ensure speedy implementation of 7T MRI and development of imaging tools (for example, quantitative functional brain imaging, susceptibility based contrasts, enhanced MR spectroscopy and multi-nuclear imaging) and their rapid translation to clinical neuroscientific research.  This will have a particular focus on connecting gene discovery and genomics to specific imaging signals and thus providing mechanistic insights that can guide the development of new treatments. This work in conditions such as schizophrenia will exploit the substantial expertise in this area in the Cardiff MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics. Cardiff University will maximise the speed of clinical impact by working closely with existing and new 7T centres in the proposed new UK7T network.

Clinical research objectives

  1. To better understand disease mechanisms in the central nervous system with particular focus on linking gene discovery to structural and functional imaging markers of neurodegenerative, neurodevelopmental, neuroinflammatory and psychiatric disorders. This will lead to better patient stratification in experimental medicine and increased chances of success in clinical trials.
  2. To use imaging to guide the development of new therapeutic interventions by understanding their mechanisms and providing sensitive read-outs of efficacy. A fully equipped clinical research facility is housed within CUBRIC, promoting early clinical trials of drug treatments and brain-repair and recovery strategies.

Cardiff University, through the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics, has a strong programme of gene discovery that, when combined with databases of patient groups and the imaging methods proposed at 7T, offers an excellent opportunity for making advances in treatment.

Imaging methodological objectives

  1. To maximise quality, sensitivity and specificity of 7T functional, structural and spectroscopic signals and thus to develop new practical imaging tools at 7T that can be applied in basic research, clinical trials and clinical practice.
  2. To integrate 7T MRI with complementary advanced imaging modalities available within CUBRIC and molecular imaging in Cardiff to maximise biological information and interpretability.

Higher magnetic field strengths in MRI bring strong benefits to brain research including:

  1. increased signal such that we can speed up some imaging methods,
  2. higher resolution images allowing us to see finer detail within the brain
  3. more sensitivity to detect naturally occurring chemicals in the brain that may be imbalanced when the brain malfunctions
  4. a much enhanced ability to detect changes in brain activity using a technique known as functional MRI
  5. the ability to better measure blood flow to brain tissue
  6. new forms of image contrast that give us previously unseen information about microscopic structure within the brain.

Together these technical advances in the MRI at 7T will give us a more complete window on to human brain structure and function.

Strategic and impact objectives

  1. To work closely with other UK 7T imaging centres to maximise the research and clinical benefits of investments in imaging, including data and knowledge sharing, researcher training and the early development of multi-centre clinical trials at 7T.
  2. To train a substantial cohort of image methods researchers and clinical research fellows in ultra-high field MRI methods and application and thus contribute significantly to the UK’s research capacity in this area
  3. To work in partnership with industry developing medical imaging technology and performing clinical trials at the early stages in man, bringing new drugs to market faster with consequent benefits for patients and the UK economy.

To compete internationally in clinical research and in the pharmaceutical industries the UK needs highly trained experts who will spearhead academic and commercial collaborations to deliver the expected clinical benefits of 7T MRI. Cardiff University’s large-scale investment in researchers to support the MRC’s investment in 7T MRI in Cardiff will be a major catalyst in achieving this objective.