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Europe’s most powerful brain scanner arrives

18 January 2016

Cubric scanner

£4M scanner will offer unprecedented access to detailed images of the human brain

Europe’s most powerful MRI scanner offering scientists unprecedented access to detailed images of the human brain has arrived.

The specially adapted MRI scanner, the first of its kind in Europe and only second of its kind in the world, was craned into the University’s new £44m Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC) on Maindy Road on Sunday (17th January, 2016).

“The arrival of this scanner is a significant landmark in the construction of our new £44M research centre and will put Cardiff University and Wales firmly on the world map for neuroimaging,” according to Professor Derek Jones, Director of CUBRIC.

“To put the new scanner’s capability into some form of context, a strand of human hair ranges in diameter from 17 to 180 microns. This new scanner allows us to get information about the structure of tissue in the brain at the length of one thousandth of a millimetre or one micron.”

The scanner, once up and running, will offer scientists unprecedented images of the micro structural make-up of tissue.

Scientists know that the density of nerve fibres, and their diameter, can influence the capacity of the brain to carry information. As the brain operates as a network understanding individual differences in the ‘quality’ of those connections becomes increasingly important.

The new scanner will help scientists better understand these individual differences.

For example, in developmental conditions such as schizophrenia, it could be some connections never form or in neurodegenerative conditions, like Alzheimer’s, it is the deterioration of the connections that lead to degeneration of brain function. 

Professor Jones added: “The best analogy is to think of a telescope.

“If you point a weakly-powered telescope at the sky, the signals from the stars that are close to each other merge into one so you just see a blur.

“However if you increase the power of the telescope, we can start to separate the signals from nearby objects and get a much better picture.

“This new scanner will allow us to establish a much better picture of the make-up of the brain. Ultimately we hope that this will help provide new targets for treatment and improved healthcare for people with mental illness.” 

The new scanner is funded by a £3M grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and £1M from the Wolfson Foundation and will help establish Cardiff as a National Microstructural Imaging facility.

The new £44m CUBRIC facility has received major financial support from the Welsh Government and the European Regional Development Fund, and UK and European Research Councils, the Wellcome Trust and the Wolfson Foundation.

Together, these investments are supporting innovation in world-class brain imaging research, including the creation of highly-skilled research jobs in Wales.

CUBRIC is expected to be officially opened later this year.