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Learn about the latest research from Dr Ludovica Griffanti, a DPUK Discovery Award winner, in this blog post.

An outdoor headshot of Dr Ludovica Griffanti.

In 2018, six early-career researchers won a DPUK Discovery Award – a grant to kick-start promising new research. The funding – totalling around £200,000 between the recipients – allowed researchers to pursue a pressing dementia-related research question in the DPUK Data Portal.

Dr Ludovica Griffanti, of Oxford University’s Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging, was one of those six recipients. Since then, she has been hard at work developing a method of synchronising brain scan measurements using large datasets.

Visualising the brain using scans is called neuroimaging and offers researchers far more information than just a picture of the brain. Depending on the type of brain scan, a range of features can be measured, including white matter hyperintensities (WMHs). WMHs are damage to the brain that show up as bright white patches on certain scans.

Neuroimaging is an immensely useful tool for research and diagnostic teams, but across large datasets there are some small but important changes in the way that brain images are captured by different scanners. This limits the ability to directly compare measurements between brain scans taken on different machines or analysed in different ways.

Dr Griffanti aimed to combat this issue by ‘harmonising’ the measurements taken by different brain scanners. Using the DPUK Data Portal, she painstakingly analysed thousands of brain scans from the Whitehall II and UK Biobank cohorts.

She and her team examined biological features that are known to correspond with WMHs, such as age, thinking skills, and other health conditions. She also calculated total brain volume to normalise the WMH measures, as well as many other measurements of different parts of the brains.

Dr Griffanti explored a range of processing techniques to maximise consistency across multiple datasets. An upgrade in the brain scanner used by the Whitehall II study offered Dr Griffanti the opportunity to test her harmonisation procedures by synchronising the measurements between the two machines using participants from the same study.

Once she had fine-tuned her harmonisation strategy, she was then able to match these WMH-related measurements with those from the UK Biobank to synchronise all three datasets. 

In summer 2021, Dr Griffanti’s vital work was published in the journal NeuroImage. This will allow other researchers to combine data from multiple cohorts to accurately test their hypotheses.

This would not have been possible without the DPUK Discovery Award – read more about the other grant recipients here. Dr Griffanti’s study was also supported by the NIHR Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre.