The UK7T Network: developing the ultra-high field MRI platform for biomedical research.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Physics & Astronomy

Abstract

Ultra-high field (UHF) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an area of intensive international research, representing the cutting edge of biomedical imaging in human subjects. 7T scanners have evolved significantly over the last decade as they undergo the transition from bespoke research systems to turn-key clinical research tools, and are now poised to deliver a range of vanguard translational applications.

The MRC recently recognised the strategic importance of UHF research to the future of biomedical imaging by investing in expanded 7T capability across the UK through the Clinical Research Infrastructure Initiative (CRII). As result of the CRII, and additional governmental and institutional funding, the number of 7T scanners in the UK will increase from two to five by 2016. With this enhancement of national infrastructure there will be an accompanying shift in focus in UHF MR research from technical development to clinical application. These developments reflect the growing consensus that widespread translational application of UHF MR is on the horizon, and that the UK is well placed to play a major role in realising this goal. Success in this regard will require the UK's five 7T sites (Cambridge, Cardiff, Glasgow, Nottingham and Oxford) to work together to tackle the challenges associated with moving to clinical applications of UHF MR.

We therefore propose to establish a UK7T Network that will share expertise, build capacity, and develop harmonized 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. The proposed Partnership Grant will allow us to meet the following objectives in initiating the UK7T Network.

1) We will increase the level of expertise in UHF magnetic resonance that the UK 7T sites can call upon, by sharing the experience that has been built up at the two established 7T sites, training a cohort of postdoctoral researchers and delivering a programme of targeted UHF training workshops.

2) We will organise a series of UHF symposia and workshops, establish a Network Advisory Committee and open up access to 7T scanning for pilot studies, to ensure that the wider community of researchers in the UK who develop and apply MR have the opportunity to exploit the UK's investment in 7T infrastructure.

3) We will produce a set of optimised 7T protocols for brain imaging that can be used by all of the 7T sites. These will include: (i) relatively straightforward anatomical and functional brain imaging methods that can applied quickly; (ii) more advanced methods, such as diffusion imaging and arterial spin labelling, that require additional development work; (iii) standardised quality assurance protocols that can be used to maintain a high level of scanner performance at all sites.

4) We will work with the Dementias Platform UK's national image sharing and analysis platform to develop the capability to share and aggregate data acquired across the UK7T Network sites, and to develop analysis pipelines that are optimised for 7T data.

5) We will demonstrate that the UK7T Network can act as a platform for large-scale multi-site studies by evaluation of two demonstrator cohorts: (i) a core data-set of high-resolution anatomical brain images from 1000 healthy adults across the age lifespan, including at least 100 data-sets from healthy subjects in the 50-80 years age range; (ii) a pilot clinical study of twenty five, early-stage Alzheimer's disease patients.

6) We will establish a robust UK7T Network management structure that will support the development and exploitation of the UK's UHF infrastructure, through the period of the Partnership Grant and beyond.

Technical Summary

We propose to establish a UK7T Network that will bring together the 7T sites in Cambridge, Cardiff, Glasgow, Nottingham and Oxford to share expertise, build capacity, and develop harmonised approaches to image data acquisition, sharing and analysis. Once established, the UK7T Network will serve as a platform for future UK-wide, collaborative research programmes in 7T magnetic resonance (MR), including multi-site, large cohort clinical studies. The Partnership Grant will allow us to:

1) Increase the level of expertise in the UK in UHF magnetic resonance by sharing the experience that has been built up in Nottingham and Oxford, training a cohort of postdoctoral researchers and delivering a programme of targeted training workshops.

2) Ensure that the wider UK MR research community can exploit the UK's investment in 7T infrastructure (via organisation of symposia and workshops, establishment of a Network Advisory Committee, and provision of access to 7T scanning for pilot studies).

3) Produce a set of optimised 7T protocols for brain imaging for use by all of the UK 7T sites, including (i) anatomical and functional brain imaging methods that can be applied quickly; (ii) more advanced methods, such as diffusion imaging and arterial spin labelling, that require additional development work; (iii) standardised quality assurance protocols.

4) Work with the Dementias Platform UK's XNAT-based national image sharing and analysis platform to develop the capability to share, aggregate and analyse UHF data.

5) Demonstrate the UK7T Network's capability as a platform for multi-site studies, by evaluation of two demonstrator cohorts: (i) a core dataset of high-resolution brain images from 1000 healthy adults across the age lifespan; (ii) a pilot clinical study of twenty five early-stage Alzheimer's disease patients.

6) Establish a robust UK7T Network management structure to support the development and exploitation of the UK's UHF infrastructure.

Planned Impact

Ultra High Field (UHF) MRI technology lies at the cutting edge of biomedical imaging, and has the potential to provide unique insights into key medical conditions, including dementia, cerebrovascular disease and mental health. The MRC and other funding bodies have recently invested heavily in UHF infrastructure and this Partnership Grant aims to establish a UK7T Network to enable and encourage collaborative work on the development and application of UHF technology. This Network will form an enduring platform for future work, which will impact positively upon the UK's medical technology and pharmaceutical sectors, and also on clinical research, ultimately leading to benefits for health and well-being.

Through a series of network interactions, including UK7T Network UHF Symposia and a programme of training workshops, we will share expertise between the sites and present the wider biomedical research community with an insight into the potential of UHF technology for a range of applications. Importantly this will enable researchers who currently have no access to or expertise in UHF MRI to evaluate how it might positively impact their research. Practicing clinicians will be included in the UK7T Network Steering Committee to ensure that the network focuses on the needs of the clinical community and by training a cohort of post-doctoral physics researchers we will build the UK's capacity to apply cutting edge methods to clinical problems. Furthermore, UHF MRI promises to be an important tool for experimental medicine, and the UK7T Network can therefore provide a valuable platform for the pharmaceutical industry.

The UK has played a pioneering role in the development of MRI and, to date, all of the UHF MRI magnets used worldwide have been manufactured in the UK. Furthermore, the UK's medical technology sector has shown consistent growth over the past few years, and UHF offers many opportunities for the development of new technology that will also impact upon lower field MRI systems. The postdoctoral researchers trained by the UK7T Network will have been exposed to the full range of challenges facing MR and to the clinical needs that are of importance to the UK, and will thus be in a good position to contribute to maintaining the UK's strength in biomedical technology.

The methods, protocols and results arising from this Partnership Grant will be published widely in both specialist and general interest journals, and the strong track record of the applicants in working with the technology vendors, will ensure that access to new developments will not be restricted to the UK7T sites.

All the UK7T sites are committed to taking every opportunity to engage the public in their science, as evidenced by their involvement in a wide range of outreach activities to adults and children, and the outputs of the UK7T Network will be disseminated to the general public via these means.

The most important outcome of the UK7T network will be the establishment of a platform for future large scale, cross-site, clinical trials which will have significant impact upon human health and the pharmaceutical industry. Multi-site studies involving large cohorts are recognized as being essential if meaningful inferences are to be made at a population level. However there are significant barriers to the successful implementation of such studies at UHF. By focusing on delivering a portfolio of common protocols, coupled with the tools for data sharing and management, we will produce the infrastructure needed to enable such large scale studies to succeed. This work will also have impact on similar large scale, cross-site and cross-platform studies that are carried out at lower field.

Publications

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Description JPND Working Group
Amount € 0 (EUR)
Organisation JPND Research 
Sector Academic/University
Country Global
Start 06/2016 
End 06/2017
 
Description UK7T Network 
Organisation King's College London
Department Institute of Pharmaceutical Science
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The UK7T Network brought the KCL group, who recently funding from Wellcome to purchase a 7T scanner, into the UK7T Network. We are now working together in implementing the UK7T Network plans.
Collaborator Contribution We are now working together in implementing the UK7T Network plans.
Impact N/A
Start Year 2016
 
Description 1st UK7T Network UHF Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This day-long meeting provided an update on the UK7T Partnership Grant Aims and highlighted the outputs from 7T research programmes across the UK and internationally.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016