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Research project awarded £1m in funding to uncover new ‘fingerprints’ of brain disease

27 May 2022

Cardiff University scientists have been awarded nearly £1m to investigate how the world’s most powerful imaging technology can help to spot new signs of disease in the brain.

They will analyse the brains of epilepsy patients using the very latest in MRI scanner technology – but also look at surgically-removed brain tissue from the same patients using further specialised MRI technology optimised for smaller samples, along with the most advanced microscopes to date.

Professor Derek Jones, Director of Cardiff University’s Brain Imaging Research Centre (CUBRIC), said it was the first time this “multi-scale” imaging approach had been used to look at the outer layer of the brain (the cortex) in this way and he hoped it would help to detect and characterise multiple cortical diseases.

“We hope this might help, in future, to better tailor surgery for people with epilepsy – and help more patients to become seizure free,” said Professor William Gray, a neurosurgeon who is part of the team.

The Cardiff project has been awarded £990,888 by the Medical Research Council as part of £7m in funding for seven UK research projects into complex human diseases, including cancer and neurodegeneration.

The research projects will use a collaborative approach to combine innovative techniques and technologies in new ways to work across different biological scales, from molecules and cells through to tissues and whole organisms.

The Cardiff team, including Dr Marco Palombo, from the Schools of Computer Science and Psychology, and Dr Khalid Hamandi, from Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, will focus on epilepsy patients, initially those with highly localised abnormalities in the structure of the cortex, called focal cortical dysplasia, most of whom do not stop having seizures even after medication.

Surgical removal of the abnormal tissue often leads to fewer seizures but in 20-30% of cases they remain, mostly likely due to undetected changes in the brain.

“Using the latest in artificial intelligence techniques, we will track back from a cellular level to whole organ level, with the aim of identifying new MRI tissue fingerprints that could uncover mechanisms of disease that have previously been hidden from view on conventional MRI,” said Professor Jones.

“We hope our study will help to make the invisible visible.”

Cardiff University will collaborate with Case Western Reserve University, University College London, the University of Leeds and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board on the project, and the MRI scanner technology has been supplied by Siemens Healthineers.

Other institutes to receive MRC funding include University College London, The Francis Crick Institute, Imperial College London, and the University of Cambridge.

Professor John Iredale, MRC executive chair said: “The awards are the result of the MRC’s competitive multimodal research funding call which was narrowed down to seven diverse projects.

“The MRC is dedicated to funding research which addresses some of the biggest problems in health. These multimodal projects provide an opportunity for novel research that pushes the boundaries of current understanding of human disease.”

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