MRI research centre set up at York University

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A new £7m research centre at York University has been established to develop a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology that could revolutionise the way medical conditions are diagnosed and treated.

Hyperpolarisation with parahydrogen is a technique developed at York University that can, it is claimed, dramatically increase the sensitivity of MRI, the scanning technology widely used in hospitals.

It is hoped that hyperpolarisation will eventually be used to help doctors make diagnoses in minutes that currently take days and tailor treatments more accurately to the needs of individual patients.

The research team, led by Prof Simon Duckett and Prof Gary Green of the departments of chemistry and psychology respectively, has secured a £4.36m grant from the Wellcome Trust and Wolfson Foundation, as well as financial support from industrial partners and the university, to build the York Centre for Hyperpolarisation in Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

Duckett said: ‘Although MRI is already an incredibly useful technique, its sensitivity is, in fact, very low, rather like finding a needle in a haystack, which makes it difficult to detect the early stages of disease. It can also be very slow, limiting the way MRI is used in clinical settings.’

Green added: ‘The success of the early stages of developing hyperpolarisation to improve the sensitivity and speed of imaging suggests this technique has huge potential to improve the treatment received by patients with a wide range of medical conditions.’

The York Centre for Hyperpolarisation will bring together university chemists and psychology researchers and the Hull York Medical School and Biology to develop the technology. The team will also be working with Prof Jürgen Hennig of the University Hospital Freiburg, one of the world’s leading experts in the medical application of MRI technology.

Hyperpolarisation involves transferring the magnetism of parahydrogen to molecules, making them more visible to nuclear magnetic resonance, an important research tool in chemistry, and MRI. The new centre’s early research programme is aimed at developing the chemical basis of this method to make it suitable for medical applications.

Prof Ian Watt, interim dean of the Hull York Medical School, said: ‘MRI is already an important diagnostic tool for conditions including brain disorders, heart and circulation problems and cancers. This research programme could mark a major step in the evolution of this technology.’