Understanding MS disease progression using MRI

Dr Chenyu Wang

The University of Sydney, NSW

| Better treatments | Neurobiology | Fellowship | 2019 | Investigator Led Research |


Disease progression in MS often involves many changes in the brain such as inflammation, damage to the myelin sheaths that surround nerve fibres, repair of the myelin and then failure of the repair mechanisms and ultimately loss of the nerve fibres themselves. Usually these changes are “silent” – that is they do not directly lead to obvious symptoms or symptom improvement.

While currently available treatments for MS reduce inflammation and activity of the immune system, the next generation of treatments in development focus on repairing the damage caused by the immune system in MS. However, a major problem in assessing treatments is the lack of tools sensitive enough to identify these “silent” changes. This can make it difficult to determine whether there has been any disease progression in a person with MS or indeed whether there has been disease improvement in response to a particular treatment.

This project aimed to develop a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-based analysis platform to monitor silent disease progression in people with MS, and track changes to lesions, nerve fibres and myelin over time and across different areas in the brain.

Progress to Date

Dr Wang’s team has worked to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into the analysis of neuroimaging (MRI) for MS. In collaboration with computer scientists and clinicians, they have developed a series of AI tools that significantly improves the efficiency and accuracy of a range of conventional and advanced neuroimaging markers for MS. This work has been featured in the media, invited international talks, and  resulted in six high quality scientific papers which have been submitted to prestigious scientific journals and are in the process of being published.

The group has also cultivated several industry partnerships including NVIDIA, the tech giant leading the graphics processing computing technology, and more recently have managed to use the work in this project to secure an additional $4 million from the Medical Research Future Fund.

They have developed improved image analysis that allows the team to define microstructural changes in the brain that are associated with brain shrinkage in MS, including changes in the brain’s “white matter” beyond the MS lesions, that otherwise appears normal.

Despite the COVID19 pandemic in 2020 this project has made great progress. The group has developed several more AI-based imaging analysis techniques. This includes new techniques that correct bias that can occur because lesions are in different parts of the brain.

They have also developed AI techniques to improve imaging of brain connections. This potentially enables the use of low-quality clinical MRI data to provide high-quality in-vivo brain connectivity analysis.

Dr Wang has also contributed to the design of the MSBase-XNAT imaging repository: the largest MS clinical imaging repository in the world for the broader research community. The project commenced its development phase in early 2020 and now in the coming months, Dr Wang will lead the deployment and integration of advanced imaging analytics with MSBIR.

Updated 26 May 2021

Updated: 04 January, 2019

Stages of the research process

Fundamental laboratory

Laboratory research that investigates scientific theories behind the possible causes, disease progression, ways to diagnose and better treat MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 10+ years

Research that builds on fundamental scientific research to develop new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics and advances it closer to the clinic.

Lab to clinic timeline: 5+ years
Clinical Studies
and Clinical Trials

Clinical research is the culmination of fundamental and translational research turning those research discoveries into treatments and interventions for people with MS.

Lab to clinic timeline: 1-5 years



Grant Awarded

  • Postdoctoral Fellowship

Total Funding

  • $180,000


  • 3 years

Funding Partner

  • Rotary club of Moorabbin
Read More
Ms Alice Saul

Newsletter subscription

  • Enter your details

Understanding MS disease progression using MRI