Research & Development

Research & Development

Welsh brain waves: a look at the biggest European centre for brain imaging



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In the wake of the 15th BioWales – the flagship event for the life science sector in Wales – we take a look at the unique £44m Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC) opened by Her Majesty the Queen last June.

CUBRIC

Creators don’t work alone. Breakthroughs don’t happen by chance. Bringing the right people together to build partnerships in new places can drive great discoveries.  This is certainly the belief of the team at Cardiff University who are busy connecting people with great ideas to people with the power to change society: businesses, governments, charities, creative thinkers. They are working towards their vision for a Cardiff Innovation System by investing in the people, places and partnerships that power will self-sustaining cycle of social, economic and technological progress.

Cardiff University is ranked second among UK universities for its impact on society, the economy, and the environment; fifth for quality; and in the top three for Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience. CUBRIC certainly builds on this worldwide reputation – it is set to play pivotal role in the global endeavour to better understand the causes of neurological and psychiatric conditions such as dementia, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis, and so yield vital clues for the development of better treatments.

Housing one of just three Siemens 3 Tesla CONNECTOM microstructure magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems in the world – a system whose power has been described as ‘the Hubble space telescope of neuroscience’ with 300mT/m gradient coils which are over 6 times more powerful than those found in conventional MR systems –  as well as seven Tesla MRI scanners, and a MEG (magnetoencephalography) scanner, CUBRIC is one of the best-equipped centres of its kind in the world.

Equipment aside, it also brings together world-leading expertise – including the centre’s Director, Professor Derek Jones. Fellow and former Chair of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine and former Program Chair for the European Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine and Biology Professor Jones also holds a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award and leads several programmatic grants including a Wellcome Trust Strategic Award and the EPSRC-funded National Microstructural Imaging Facility.

Talking about CUBRIC, he commented: “The Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre is unique in Europe and the equal of any facility of its kind in the world. This is the most exciting development in this field in the past decade and the start of a new era in neuroimaging. The technology will allow us to establish a much better picture of the make-up of the brain, including detailed measurements of the fibre-bundles that interconnect different parts of the brain. Ultimately, we hope that this will help provide new targets for treatment.

Having multiple technologies under one roof allows us to combine new signals across range of spatial scales for the first time, to get a holistic view of how the brain works in health and disease. It is this unique combination of equipment and expertise that is already having an international draw, attracting collaborators from across the world.”

Over the next few years, the Centre will be joined by two new buildings on Cardiff Innovation Campus, where experts will work across social sciences, catalysis, and Compound Semiconductor technologies to develop new processes, products, start-ups and spin-out companies. And of course, inside the University, enterprise education, work placements and industry-focused degrees are providing young people with the spirit, skills and knowledge to succeed.

“Only through working with others can we grow – and our system brings people together in partnership to create innovation for all,” concludes Professor Jones.

CUBRIC in numbers

– 4 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) laboratories with a combination of equipment – including the 3T CONNECTOM system, multiple 3T Prisma systems, and a 7T MAGNETOM system – which make it a unique facility in the UK.

– 1 magnetoencephalography (MEG) laboratory measuring electrical activity in the brain

– 3 electroencephalography (EEG) laboratories shedding light on the processes involved in various cognitive tasks such as remembering, paying attention, and reading.

– 5 laboratories dedicated to brain stimulation technology used in research and clinical practice to activate neurons, brain stimulation techniques have been used to treat a variety of conditions including Parkinson’s disease, depression and epilepsy.

– 10 laboratories for cognitive testing assessing cognitive capabilities of individuals. Common screening tests include a recall of a copied sentence, calculations and verbal fluency.

– 1 clinical research facility built to hospital standards and integrated with the clinical research MRI laboratory and the MEG laboratory. The clinical research facility (CRF) is a purpose-built environment for patients and volunteers taking part in medical research and clinical trials at the Centre.

– 2 sleep labs focusing on functionality of the sleeping brain using a multimodal imaging approach including fMRI, cerebrovascular physiology and cognitive techniques.

– 1 high-performance computing and scalable IT environment enabling researchers to find results within hours or days – results that would take years of computations on standard computers.

About the author

With well over 100 years experience between us, we’ve been around the editorial and medical blocks a few times. But we’re still as keen as any young pup to root out what’s new and inspiring.

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