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Innovative ways to use MRI

  • We showcase four of the new grants awarded in 2019 by MS Research Australia that will investigate how MRI can be used to better understand MS, rather than simply as a diagnostic tool.
  • Dr Chenyu Wang has been awarded a fellowship using MRI to track silent changes to the brain in MS.
  • Dr Justin Garber will be undertaking a PhD looking at nerve cell loss with MRI in progressive MS.
  • Dr Saadallah Ramadan has been awarded an incubator to investigate whether MRI can measure if a new treatment for fatigue and depression is effective in MS.
  • Dr Ai-Lan Nguyen from the University of Melbourne has been funded to travel to Genoa in Italy to improve the use of MRI in the clinical setting.

In January, MS Research Australia announced the successful grant recipients for 2019, totalling over $1.75 million in new funding. The new grants cover a range of topics from fundamental laboratory research to new interventions to help people with MS manage their symptoms. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) plays a crucial role in the diagnosis and treatment of MS and four of the 20 new grants have focused on innovative ways to use MRI to better understand MS, rather than simply as a clinical tool.

Dr Chenyu Wang and Dr Justin Garber, both from the University of Sydney will be working to deploy MRI analysis in new ways to track the progression and severity of MS.

Dr Chenyu Wang, an engineer with a PhD in imaging and signal  processing, will be undertaking a Postdoctoral Fellowship into the use of MRI as a way to monitor silent disease progression in people with MS – that is disease activity that does not lead to  immediate symptom changes but may contribute to the ultimate burden of the disease in the brain. Dr Wang will develop an MRI platform to track changes over time and across different brain regions to measure how an individual’s disease is progressing and responding to treatment. This fellowship is a great example of capturing researchers from diverse fields and getting them to use their knowledge in new ways to help solve MS.

Dr Justin Garber’s Postgraduate Scholarship, with thanks to funding support from the Trish MS Research Foundation, will allow him to investigate what drives brain cell loss in people with progressive MS. Dr Garber is a consultant neurologist working with people with MS as well as contributing to research into MS. He will explore ways to track nerve cell changes using MRI and create a map of connections within the brains of people with progressive MS. It is hoped this technique will provide a simple way to measure progressive disease activity for use in clinical trials and in clinical practice to determine if a treatment is working within a shorter timeframe.

Dr Saadallah Ramadan is a magnetic resonance physicist and biochemist who has worked for many years overseas leading the development of new techniques in MRI. Now at the University of Newcastle, he will use his MS Research Australia Incubator Grant to develop MRI techniques to track changes associated with fatigue in MS. Fatigue is one of the most commonly reported symptoms, occurring in over 80% of people with progressive MS. Effective ways to manage fatigue is a huge unmet need and Dr Ramadan’s work will form part of a pioneering clinical trial that will be looking at whether supplements which boost cellular energy production can combat fatigue and depression in MS.

Finally, one of our Ian Ballard Travel Awards this year has gone to Dr Ai-Lan Nguyen, from the University of Melbourne, who will visit colleagues at the University of Genoa in Italy to collaborate on techniques to improve the use of MRI. Dr Nguyen, who is a practicing MS neurologist, aims to develop a consistent way of analysing MRI so that the data can be pooled and analysed in large international studies effectively irrespective of where in the world the images were taken. This will be a great benefit for the use of MRI in clinical trials with sites in different locations around the world, as well as directly improving the information obtained from individual MRI scans to support the care of people with MS in the clinic.

All four researchers we are funding are targeting progressive MS and have in common the use of specialised MRI and image analysis to better understand MS progression and track symptoms.

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Innovative ways to use MRI