EPSRC and MRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Biomedical Imaging

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Biomedical Imaging CDT


The United Kingdom has a strong history of having developed imaging techniques and technologies that allow us to visualize a range of biomedical phenomena, from being able to visualise molecules inside individual cells, to being able to take pictures non invasively inside patients. Examples of this include the pioneering work done by Sir Godfrey Hounsfield (Nobel Prize winner and co-inventor of the Computed Tomography scanner), and Sir Peter Mansfield of Nottingham University (Nobel Prize winner and co-inventor of magnetic resonance imaging). A recent report from two of the UK Research Councils showed that the UK still has a world-leading research profile in this area, but also showed that there was a shortage of trained UK individuals who are experts in medical imaging. This means that our research institutions and industries struggle to employ suitably qualified individuals, and either have to employ non-UK nationals or cannot undertake the work they wish to.

The aim of this Centre for Doctoral Training is therefore to address the need for more trained imaging scientists by linking together two of the UK's top research-intensive universities to deliver a rigorous training programme in this area. In particular, and in response to the needs expressed both by our industry colleagues and by our NHS colleagues, we will put in place a doctoral training programme that gives students an understanding of the full landscape of medical imaging (e.g. different types of imaging, different scales of imaging from cellular imaging up to whole human imaging, and different ways of analyzing the resulting images). Since these will mostly be students with a background in the physical sciences (physics, engineering and mathematics) we will also provide them with a training in the basic biology of cells, and in the range of diseases in which medical imaging can make a difference.

Following a first year of training the students will work in specialist research laboratories in Oxford and Nottingham (with some students working between the two institutions). Both universities have world-renowned scientists and excellent facilities to host research projects for the students, culminating in each student receiving a doctoral degree from either Nottingham or Oxford. The range of research and opportunities available to these students is very large, with researchers in both institutions working at all scales of medical imaging (single cells to whole humans), and on various diseases, including cancer, brain disorders, and heart disorders.

As major partners we will work with colleagues from industry so that our students gain experience in working in an industry environment, and so that some of the projects they work on are ones that are proposed by industry. This partnership will also help us produce trained experts who have an appreciation for the way that industry operates, and an understanding of how research ideas can be commercialized so that they become a source of income to the nation.

We believe that by having a rigorous doctoral training programme like this we will ensure that the UK is well placed to compete academically and industrially in the future. We also believe that there will be benefits to the NHS, since our graduates will develop imaging techniques that will refine the way the NHS treats us, thus saving money and making the treatments that we receive more relevant to us as individuals.

Planned Impact

The UK has made a significant research impact in the area of biomedical imaging, especially given the size of its research volume. This impact was highlighted in the 2012 EPSRC/MRC Report on Medical Imaging Technologies, that placed the UK first for relative world impact in the neuroimaging field, and third in the world for research in radiology, nuclear medicine and medical imaging (see Appendix 1 of that report). However, the UK does not have a good track record in translating its medical imaging technologies into commercial enterprises. Indeed, most of the major medical imaging technology companies are based outside the UK.

Based on this excellence of biomedical imaging research expertise, however, an opportunity does exist to promote enterprise in the UK, which ultimately may lead to the growth of smaller specialist companies, particularly in the area of supporting drug discovery and assessment of pharmaceutical efficacy. For the pharmaceutical industry the ideal situation is to partner with academically strong medical centres via specialist contract research organizations (of the type represented by one of our industry partners P1Vital) who have imaging experts to guide the complex trials work that is required. In order to prevent emerging markets, with their increasingly competitive academic centres, from being first choice options for hosting such industries, the UK must train a larger pool of entrepreneurially minded imaging scientists.

The other major beneficiary of biomedical imaging science is in the healthcare sector, where NHS delivery costs are rising dramatically, and more focused and quantitative characterization of patients and their treatment progression will be needed. This is true across all scales of imaging, from better tissue characterization at the cellular level (from biopsies and via endoscopic procedures), all the way to human-organ and whole-body imaging methods. The opportunities for cost savings for a more personalized medicine delivery are enormous, but only provided that carefully targeted imaging procedures can be generated and used in combination with personalized genetic information. If successful, imaging could help greatly reduce healthcare costs by better stratifying patients for specific treatments, and by ensuring via longitudinal follow up that those treatments are being effective.

Clearly the biggest impact of the CDT, however, will be the work that the projected 75+ students perform once they complete their studies. This injection of highly trained and inter-connected imaging scientist experts will maintain UK academia's prominence in this field and will greatly strengthen UK industry and the UK healthcare sector. Based on past experience we would expect approximately 60% will move straight into academic research and 20% into industrial research. The remaining students will go into a variety of careers including the healthcare sector and other professional careers. Given the industrial involvement and stimulation in this CDT we would also expect several of our students to be attracted towards an entrepreneurial pathway and to form their own startup companies (e.g. the existing DTCs at the maths/physical/biomedicine interface in Oxford have resulted in 12 such startups). This demonstrates the likely impact of the career development opportunities provided by the ONBI CDT programme, and the resulting excellent employment prospects. Academically we would expect, based on previous and existing similar programmes, that each student will publish 2-3 journal papers arising from their doctoral work, including many in high impact journals, and likely some will file patents. It should finally be noted that all students will be required to participate in public and schools outreach activities in the later years of their training, with the hope and expectation that this will be an activity that they continue beyond their training, thus with a lasting impact.


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