£7.5 million boost for world-leading lung imagery research

Hyperpolarised Gas Ventilation ImagingThe Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has today (23 October 2014) announced the University of Sheffield is to be awarded £7.5 million to expand its development of world-leading clinical lung imaging.

The Academic Unit of Radiology in the University’s Department of Cardiovascular Science, one of key research groups contributing to the recently established Insigneo Institute for in silico Medicine, is internationally leading in the research and development of technology for clinical lung imaging with hyperpolarised gases and proton MRI which provide very detailed images of patient’s lungs without relying on X-rays radiation.

Using these state-of-the-art techniques developed in Sheffield, by the Pulmonary, Lung and Respiratory Imaging Sheffield (POLARIS) project, led by Professor Jim Wild, the team creates functional images of the lungs in patients affected by conditions such as smoking, cystic fibrosis, emphysema, pulmonary hypertension and asthma.

Collaborating with clinicians in Sheffield and across the UK they have led the way in translating these techniques in to the clinic.

The technique of hyperpolarised gas MRI involves a person inhaling small amounts of noble gases (Helium-3 and Xenon-129), which are then imaged inside an MRI scanner. The gases are hyperpolarised using high power lasers by a process called optical pumping. The group have developed specialised gas laser polarisers and custom MRI scanner hardware which provide high-resolution images that are not currently available with conventional methods.

Research Timeline Images

The innovative imaging technology illuminates lung function and helps clinicians identify early signs of lung disease, for example earlier diagnosis of emphysema and smoking related damage, as well as other lung conditions and diseases such as pulmonary fibrosis, asthma, pulmonary hypertension and cystic fibrosis.

However, several technical barriers, such as ease of polarisation of the gases used and the additional hardware required for the MRI scanners, still need to be overcome before this technology can become a more routinely used clinical method across the UK.

The grant, which is made up of £6.5 million from the Medical Research Council and a further £1 million from the British Heart Foundation, will allow the expansion of the ground-breaking image acquisition and processing facilities in Sheffield, in turn making the UK the leading nation in this important area of diagnostic pulmonary medicine.

The award is part of a £230 million grant for technologies to revolutionise research into disease led by the Medical Research Council (MRC). The money will be invested in a range of revolutionary technologies aimed at identifying the causes of diseases such as cancer and dementia, and dramatically speeding up diagnosis and treatment. The state-of-the-art technologies will be used to find out how differences in the cellular and molecular make-up of people affect how they respond to diseases and to treatment.

Jim Wild, Professor of Magnetic Resonance Physics and NIHR Research Professor in Pulmonary Imaging, said: “This grant will allow continued research into MRI scanner hardware and image acquisition methods and their clinical translation ensuring Sheffield and the UK leads in this important area of diagnostic pulmonary medicine.

“The new image processing laboratory will allow us to process large volumes of digital imaging data for phenotyping pulmonary diseases together with computational modelling approaches being pioneered in the University’s Insigneo Institute for in silico medicine which brings together engineers, scientists and clinicians from across the University of Sheffield, and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.”

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