Brain imaging

Our research aims to develop sensitive imaging biomarkers for use in clinical trials enabling shorter trials with smaller numbers.

We are also developing sensitive and specific imaging measurements to understand disease mechanisms, including:

  • markers of neuroinflammation to track its development in time and space after stroke or brain tumour and to understand its role in cognitive decline;
  • functional re-organisation of the brain following a tumour and its removal, to guide surgical intervention and oncological therapy;
  • measurements of cerebral blood flow and metabolism.

In addition, we will use shared imaging facilities to add research protocols to clinical scans, particularly in the acute setting, enabling the development of diagnostic and predictive disease models, as well as accelerating clinical translation.

Our research

Sensitive measurements of blood-brain barrier dysfunction

Funder: Engineering and Physical Science Research Council UK
Researchers: Laura Parkes and Ben Dickie

This project concerns the development of new imaging measurements of the blood-brain barrier.

Rather than measuring the leakage of contrast agent into the brain, our new approach sensitises the MRI signal to the leakage of water.

This should highlight more subtle damage that may be important in a number of diseases including stroke.

Cerebral blood flow measurements in children with brain tumours

Researchers: Laura Parkes and Stavros Stivaros

Conventional MRI cannot inform on the type or grade of a brain tumour, which is vital to establishing a treatment pathway.

Arterial spin labelling in an advanced MRI measurement of cerebral blood flow can improve phenotyping and better predict outcome. This can help with treatment decisions about how best to treat each type of brain tumour.

Our theme leads contributed to the development of arterial spin labelling and worked together to implement this measurement on the MRI scanner at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, demonstrating an improvement in care.

Exploring the effects of lung infection in Alzheimer’s Disease using advanced MRI

Funders: Engineering and Physical Science Research Council UK
Researchers: Yolanda Ohene, Ben Dickie and Laura Parkes

People living with Alzheimer’s disease are at higher risk of contracting pneumonia, and it being life-threatening, than healthy elderly people.

Advanced MRI can be used to non-invasively measure the impact of lung infection has on the brain. Specially, lung infection seems to increase the response of a protein, called aquaporin-4, found on the blood-brain barrier.

This may be important as a diagnostic tool or a new therapeutic target for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Yolanda Ohene was awarded the De Laszlo Prize at Alzheimer’s Research UK 2024 conference for exceptional contribution from an early career researcher for this project.

PhD projects

Advanced MRI to improve the management of brain tumours

Aisling FothergillPhD student: Aisling Fothergill
Supervisors: Laura Parkes, David Higgins (Philips Healthcare), Ibrahim Djoukhadar, Owen Thomas and David Coope

Non-invasive monitoring of brain tumours is important to inform surgical decisions and manage effective treatment. Aisling’s work is focused around developing two advanced MRI measurements for characterising brain tumours.

The first of these methods, known as arterial spin labelling, measures blood flow in the brain. The second, called amide proton transfer, has been shown to effectively distinguish brain tumour progression from swelling and other treatment-related changes, a differentiation not easily seen on conventional MRI scans.

Aisling aims to optimise these scans, such that they can be effectively transferred into clinical practice to provide useful information for patient treatment and to improve our understanding of brain tumour biology.

Robust measurements of blood-brain barrier leakage after stroke

Olivia JonesPhD student: Olivia Jones
Supervisors: Laura Parkes, David Higgins (Philips Healthcare), Ben Dickie and Adrian Parry-Jones

The blood-brain barrier acts as a shield around the brain’s blood vessels, controlling what can pass from the blood to the brain tissue. This barrier is important for protecting the sensitive brain tissue from harmful substances.

When someone has a stroke, parts of the blood-brain barrier can become damaged and leaky, no longer protecting the brain. It is not currently known how this leakage impacts the brain and its recovery long-term after a stroke.

MRI can measure this leakage, helping us understand what is going on in the brain after a stroke. However, it is difficult to measure small amounts of leakage and the scan can take a long time.

Olivia’s work is focused on improving these techniques to allow robust measurements of subtle blood-brain barrier leakage in shorter scan times.

Using multi-modal PET and MRI to predict the site of tumour recurrence in high grade glioma

Bandar AlfaifiPhD student: Bandar Alfaifi 
Supervisors: Dr Rainer Hinz, Dr David Coope, Dr Daniel Lewis and Prof Alan Jackson 

This project expands the work on existing imaging data in glioma patients. The dataset consists of positron emission tomography (PET) scans with amino acid and translocator protein 18kDa (TSPO) tracers and of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data such as dynamic contrast enhanced (DCE) MRI.  

Follow-up clinical and MRI data are obtained for the evaluation of treatment response and for monitoring tumour recurrence. The objective of this project is to identify potential PET and MRI biomarkers for the prediction of the site of recurrence of high grade glioma.