Water exchange in the vasculature of the brain (WEX-BRAIN)

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Computer Science


The blood-brain barrier separates blood vessels from brain tissue. It allows molecules critical to normal brain function to pass but blocks other, potentially toxic, molecules. Such toxic substances can pass into the brain when the blood-brain barrier if not functioning correctly. Abnormal blood-brain barrier function is associated with many brain conditions (for example, stroke, dementia and multiple sclerosis) and is thought to play an important role in the development of these conditions. It is important to be able to measure blood-brain barrier function as this may help with diagnosis, developing therapies and monitoring treatment. Unfortunately, currently there are no non-invasive and reliable methods to do this. Within this project we plan to develop new ways to measure blood-brain barrier function by measuring how easily water passes across it. We will develop new advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning and computer-based analysis to generate images that tell us how leaky the blood-brain barrier is. We will test these measurements using computational simulations and animal measurements. We will then apply these measurements in a small set of human volunteers and patients in order to demonstrate that these methods can detect blood brain barrier abnormalities and can do so in a clinical setting. The outcome of the project will be new tools to enable doctors to diagnose and treat patients with brain conditions more effectively.

Planned Impact

We anticipate short-term benefits to the academic community, scanner manufacturers and the pharmaceutical industry, with subsequent benefits for healthcare and patients. Biophysicists, imaging physicists and biomedical researchers are the initial WEX-BRAIN end-users, using our novel Blood-brain barrier (BBB) water exchange measurements to inspire further innovation and in mechanistic studies and clinical treatment trials. Clinicians will be longer-term end-users of this research, using BBB water exchange measurements to characterise disease early and select and monitor treatment on an individual basis. This should lead to earlier, effective intervention which is cost-effective, as it increases the time before the person starts drawing on health and social care services.


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