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New £29.1 million national MRI scanning facility award for Nottingham

The University of Nottingham has been awarded £29.1 million to establish the UK’s most powerful Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner as a national facility, subject to business case approval.

This will help the UK lead the world in ultra-high field MRI, giving researchers and doctors unprecedented insights into brain function and the mechanisms of human disease in other organs.

The funding, from UK Research and Innovation, is thought to be the largest single award ever received by the University, and is part of a three-year £481 million injection into the UK’s research and innovation infrastructure, to support ground-breaking research to address global challenges.

Professor Ian Hall, Director of the Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), which is hosted by NUH, welcomed the news. He said: “Nottingham has gained an international reputation in the development of MRI approaches for clinical use over the years.

“At the moment, the most powerful system available in the UK is 7 Tesla, which Nottingham was the first to adopt, and the next advance will be to 11.7T. This allows researchers to reach beyond studies of tissues and into cells and their interconnectivity, providing us with insight into disease mechanisms.”

Nottingham BRC supported the University’s vision for the ultra-high field MRI scanning centre, which was driven forward by Professor Richard Bowtell, Professor Penny Gowland and Professor Dorothee Auer and colleagues at the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre.

The University will work with teams across the UK, including researchers in the BRC’s Imaging Theme, to establish the 11.7T Tesla MRI scanner as a national facility. This will underpin the UK’s goal of retaining its position as a world leader in ultra-high field MRI for brain imaging and spectroscopy.

Professor Hall added: “As a national centre hosting the 11.7T scanner, this will also have a positive effect on our capacity to train researchers and further cement Nottingham’s reputation as a major MRI centre internationally.”

Professor Richard Bowtell, Head of the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre, said: “We are extremely excited that the University of Nottingham, the birthplace of MRI, will host the new ultra-high field scanning facility.

“We are proud that this remarkable scanner will be housed in the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre, on the campus where my mentor Sir Peter’s breakthrough transformed medicine.”

Nobel Prize winner Sir Peter developed MRI in Nottingham in the early 1970s, revolutionising healthcare across the world.

The capabilities of this new scanner will underpin a broad range of clinical and neuroscience-focused research programmes in the UK. It will be more than 1,000 times more powerful than the first scanners developed by the late Sir Peter and will help transform understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s and neurodevelopmental disorders including autism and schizophrenia.

Ultra-high field (11.7T) MRI offers huge benefits in terms of improved sensitivity which will enable higher spatial resolution imaging, faster imaging, and greater sensitivity to physiological changes. The scanner will also provide a step change in the capabilities of magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to provide information about the biochemistry of the human body.

The new insights into brain structure and function provided by the facility will be of immediate benefit to researchers in basic and clinical neuroscience. Previously inaccessible measures of metabolism and organ function in health and disease will be of value across the biomedical community, including the life science and healthcare industries and the NHS. Engineers, physicists and computer scientists will be engaged in the development of new ultra-high field technology.

The bid to establish an ultra-high field scanning facility for the UK was spearheaded by researchers at the University of Nottingham but involved more than 90 researchers from 20 different organisations across the UK whose expertise spans multiple disciplines, and who will help to develop and exploit the new facility.

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