Cardiff University - EPSRC Capital Award for Core Equipment

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Psychology


Cardiff University will use the EPSRC's Capital Award allocation to purchase three packages of multi-user equipment as part of a broader strategy to support the development and maintenance of its world class laboratories. Such laboratory facilities are a key component of the University strategy to support high quality research and ensure the long-term competitiveness of its research community.

The three proposal are linked around the theme of advancing methods for neuroscience research, building on key strengths already in place at Cardiff, within the Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC).

The equipment has been proposed by research teams spanning the University, including physicists, engineers, computer scientists, psychologists, geneticists and psychiatrists. An important outcome of this work will be increased collaboration amongst these teams of people - this is essential for making the next advances in our understanding of the brain, its development from infancy through to old age, and what is happening in both health and disease.

The first package of equipment will extend CUBRIC's capabilities so that, using a technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG), we can measure the brain's electrical activity in both adults and young children, potentially while they are moving - this has been impossible up to now. The interdisciplinary team mentioned above will be needed to fully implement this system and optimise its potential.

We will also build a suite of equipment that allows more sensitive and controlled investigations of how the brain processes both touch and pain. This is technically challenging because the equipment must work within our brain scanning environments and the multidisciplinary team of scientists we have brought together are necessary to solve these challenges. However, it is important, because many conditions, such as autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), have, at their core, a deficit in sensory processing, including touch. In addition, many people suffer from chronic pain and this equipment will allow a more detailed investigation of how the brain processes touch and pain in this group.

Finally, many of our research scientists are developing novel, more complex, analysis tools for neuroscience data analysis. The new algorithms, including machine-learning approaches, can make the best use of the opportunities afforded by CUBRIC's brain imaging facilities and the complex data it generates, but need state-of-the-art computer processing systems. The third package of equipment is such a system, using advanced GPU processors to enable work to be done in hours that we would have to wait weeks for on our current system.

Planned Impact

This Equipment will enable collaborative research between academics across the University sector, including Physics, Engineering, Computer Science, Psychology, Medicine and Biological Sciences. We will also liaise with academic and commercial researchers designing clinical trials regarding ways to incorporate novel neuroimaging acquisitions, and advanced machine-learning analysis tools, into their protocols.
We will disseminate our findings at international conferences and by publications. We will encourage further replication by other groups (by making our designs, protocols and datasets available) to promote the goal of meta-analytically validated imaging markers that can enter use in clinical diagnosis.

Through methodological improvements across many future research studies, the equipment will have significant impact outside academic research. Ultimately, we envisage that the major non-academic beneficiaries will be:
1) Patients suffering from a wide range of neurological disorders.
2) Mental health professionals involved in the care of patients
3) Pharmaceutical companies with interest in developing drugs for psychiatric and neurological disorders

Ultimately, the equipment here will help deliver enhanced outcomes in this area in the following ways:
1) Provide the ability to non-invasively study sensitive markers of brain function, such as oscillatory dynamics and connectivity, in a wider range of people, including infants to old age, in more comfortable and dynamic real-world environments and at a much cheaper cost.
2) Provide more precise and controllable ways of mapping all aspects of sensory function, include vision, auditory and, in particular, high-accuracy mapping of the somatosensory and pain systems in volunteers and patients.
3) Enhance our ability to perform complex data processing via machine-learning algorithms that have, until now, been computationally prohibitive.

All of the above will enhance our capabilities to deliver large cross-lifespan normative datasets and then test clinical groups against this, improving early detection, stratification of diagnosis and treatment planning.

Ultimately the major beneficiaries will be the patients suffering from these disorders, their carers, and professionals working in the healthcare industry.

Impact on the pharmaceutical industry
The development of new neurological drugs is extremely expensive and all of the major companies are attempting to reduce costs by streamlining this process. A particular focus is the development of early biomarkers of drug action both within the patient group and in terms of predicting an individual's response. The methodological improvements that will result from this equipment, and its integration into novel research designs, is therefore likely to have significant impact on this industry. Cardiff University has strong links to large pharmaceutical companies as well as ongoing projects in developing methodology to develop new pharmacological agents via its flagship Medicines Discovery Institute. These links and projects will be further enhanced by the present proposal.

Outreach activities beyond patient populations
All of the research partners on this bid have strong outreach programmes that are aimed towards making the results of scientific studies accessible to a broad non-academic audience. This is achieved via university open days, local media and, in order to reach younger people, researchers delivering presentations in local schools. We will support outreach activities by making the results of our collaborative research available for use at such events. Where appropriate we will continue to distribute results via press release.


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