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The first participant in the final stage to prepare DPUK’s scanners for multi-site dementia research comes in for their brain scan today

PET-MRI scanner at the University of Manchester © University of Manchester

This visit marks the launch of the DPUK Imaging Network ‘harmonisation study’ which will ensure that the DPUK scanners are properly calibrated and can provide consistent imaging data between sites.

The participant is one of 42 other medical research volunteers who are part of the study led by DPUK imaging scientists, Julian Matthews and Karl Herholz. When the scanners are set up, following this harmonisation, they will be used in UK-wide dementia studies on a scale not previously seen. National scale studies are new for dementia research, and are only just getting under way thanks to work like this to prepare the scanner network.

It’s one of the sad truths about dementia that by the time symptoms start to appear, it’s usually too late to reverse them. And as dementia grows into one of our most pressing public health issues, researchers urgently need the tools to help them detect the disorder in its earliest stages and develop effective treatments.

One of those tools – and one of the most valuable in the fight against dementia – is brain imaging technology. From detecting the build-up of toxic proteins in the brain, to learning more about how dementia takes hold at a cellular level, the deployment of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) technologies can give scientists important insights into the development, progression and potential treatment of dementia.

Critical to this research will be DPUK’s network of state-of-the-art PET-MR scanners, a public-private partnership funded by the UK’s Medical Research Council that aims to speed up scientific advances in what has been a particularly stubborn area of research. The network of seven scanners, manufactured by Siemens and GE Healthcare and based at universities and hospitals across the UK, will build on existing brain imaging activities carried out under the auspices of DPUK.

Dr Julian Matthews, of the University of Manchester, is joint lead of the PET-MR project’s harmonisation phase and chief investigator of a clinical study that will ensure these high-specification scanners are properly calibrated and providing consistent imaging results between sites. Dr Matthews said: “PET-MR is a new scanning technology which enables simultaneous acquisition of PET and MR data within a common scanning field of view, with minimal interference between the two imaging modalities. In the UK there are seven such scanners, which are all part of the DPUK network, with an eighth scanner due to complete installation in Sheffield in the near future.

“We envisage that this unique national network will provide accurate imaging biomarkers and thus enable highly effective clinical studies in the UK of new therapeutics in neurodegenerative disease, including – but not limited to – dementia. Additionally, although not yet established, this equipment has many potential benefits, such as reducing the scanning burden to patients who require both PET and MRI scans as part of their care, as well as being used in research where the clinical state of patients can change between scanning sessions.”