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The University of Sheffield's PET-MR scanner
PET-MR scanner (image: University of Sheffield)

Sheffield has a strong reputation for world-class research in neurodegenerative diseases that lead to motor impairments and cognitive decline in older age. Through its new scanner – the eighth in the network – the university will be able to expand its existing research with in-vivo molecular imaging.

The DPUK imaging network is the world’s first national brain imaging network. Experts are using advanced scanning to picture the earliest signs of dementia – a fundamental step on the path to effective treatment. Sheffield’s facility adds to DPUK’s initial investment in seven state-of-the-art PET-MR scanners, which will be used for UK-wide, multi-site studies.

Professor Dame Pamela Shaw, Director of the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) and NIHR Sheffield Biomedical Research Medical Centre, said: ‘Sheffield is a tertiary clinical referral and world-leading translational research centre for neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, motor neuron disease, Parkinson’s disease and the ageing brain.

‘I’m delighted that, having completed construction and installation of our own PET-MR facility this year, Sheffield has gained membership into the DPUK imaging network, which will allow more patients to participate in experimental medicine studies and clinical trials.’

Professor Wendy Tindale, Scientific Director for Medical Imaging and Medical Physics at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: ‘We are delighted to have PET-MR available to the patients of Sheffield. We know how important clinical research is for the delivery of high-quality outcomes, and this participation in the DPUK network will ensure extensive collaboration in support of new diagnostic techniques.’

Professor Franklin Aigbirhio of the University of Cambridge, the DPUK imaging network lead, said: ‘It’s a pleasure to have the University of Sheffield join the DPUK imaging network. With its internationally leading research programmes in neurodegenerative disorders, coupled with its new state-of the-art PET-MR imaging infrastructure and expertise in molecular imaging – recently strengthened with several excellent new appointments – Sheffield will truly enhance the capability and expertise of the network. This will help enable the network to achieve its overarching aim of creating a world-leading environment for applying advanced imaging to support experimental medicine and clinical trials in dementia research in the UK.’

Dementia research at Sheffield has recently expanded, with new appointments including Professors Karl Herholz, Steven Sourbron and Li Su to enhance the university’s imaging expertise.

Professor Li Su and his team will pioneer a number of exciting studies based on the PET-MR scanner. Their research will investigate how early changes in tau and amyloid proteins, neuroinflammation and other pathologies contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions.

He said: ‘It is widely recognised that early detection and intervention are the key strategies to slow down or stop dementia. Although MR scans have routinely been used in assisting the clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and many other neurological conditions, breakthroughs have been made in advanced molecular imaging and novel PET tracers. This allows us, for the first time, to study not only the “consequences” of these diseases, but potential “causes” at the same time.’

Professor Jim Wild, Head of Imaging, MR physicist and technical lead for the Sheffield scanner, said: ‘We look forward to developing new clinical applications and tackling technical challenges for PET-MRI, working with other sites in the UK through the DPUK network. My personal research interest in the technology is the potential to integrate additional functional information from non-proton and hyperpolarised MRI with the structural and functional capability of PET-MRI.’

The PET-MR facility was made possible by the Sheffield scanner appeal, launched by the University of Sheffield in 2017.

Read more about the DPUK imaging network.