Driving neuroimaging research forwards

On 30 November 2015, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and Dementia Research Unit (BRC/U) hosted a meeting on Neuroimaging & Experimental Medicine Advances at the Ortus centre, London. Dr Sarah Markham, Patient Representative for the Experimental Medicine and Clinical Trials Cluster, reports on some of the highlights of the meeting:

Through collaborations with industry, maximizing local expertise and infrastructure the BRC/U has cultivated an environment ready to make advances in the use of experimental approaches for psychiatry, and this event took the opportunity to review the considerable progress made to date in translational research using neuroimaging.

The event featured a diversity of speakers. After opening remarks from Dr Mitul Mehta, Professor Shitij Kapur spoke on schizophrenia and the association of PDE10 (a brain enzyme) with dopamine pathways. Research at the BRC has allowed measurement of the PDE10 signal, allowing it to be linked with Huntingdon’s and Parkinson’s disease. This may have significant clinical implications for people who suffer with these illnesses.

Alice Egerton, Senior Lecturer then gave a presentation on neuroimaging biomarkers that may predict either the onset of psychosis or individual responses to antipsychotic medication. The hope is that this research will lead to the development of a stratified approach to the treatment of schizophrenia; facilitating the prescribing of effective anti-psychotic medication would be of immense benefit to patients anxious to be free of psychotic symptoms. 

Alice’s fascinating presentation was followed by Professor Katya Rubia speaking on fMRI‐Neurofeedback in ADHD adolescents, and Raphael Underwood’s presentation on the continuum view of psychosis and neuroimaging of appraisals of psychotic experiences. The first session ended with Dr Yannis Paloyelis speaking on the optimisation of oxytocin administration to modulate brain function.

At this point everyone was grateful for the coffee break and the chance to stretch their legs and view poster presentations which were on display. The second half of the afternoon began with Dr Orla Doyle, who applies machine learning in the context of neuroimaging to improve diagnosis and prognosis. In particular Orla has tried to find association between brain and clinical phenotypes to aid diagnosis and inform treatment decisions. 

This thought-provoking talk was followed by a presentation by Dr Mattia Veronese, who is developing methods and algorithms for PET quantification and image analysis. Dr Grainne McAlonan followed this with a presentation on acute modulation of the brain excitatory/inhibitory balance as a treatment target in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Dr Danai Dima then spoke on the ENIGMA Lifespan group, which combines genetic and neuroimaging data, utilising the power of large numbers. 

A session on patient participant involvement allowed researchers to hear from service users who had participated in clinical trials run by the BRC and ask them about their experiences and how they might have been improved. Their experience of neuroimaging and task based trials was positive and they had clearly enjoyed themselves. One of the participants said she had chosen to become involved to “find out what all this research was about”. For another it was to gain insight into his illness and for the third it followed from being treated on falling ill. The service users also spoke of how participation helped to reduce their sense of stigma and how being able to contribute to something which would help future generations made them feel useful and good about themselves. 

The presentations concluded with a talk from an invited guest, Professor Bill Deakin. Bill is currently researching how the antibiotic minocycline appears to improve the outcome of treatment for schizophrenia. He spoke of the importance of developing novel treatment modalities for psychosis and stratifying according to biology, genetics, and other factors.

Finally, Dr Allan Young summed up the meeting, reiterating Mitul’s comments at the start of the event on the need for a critical mass of research outcomes to drive neuroimaging research forwards. Allan drew attention to the most interesting potential clinical indicators for further research and theoretical refinement that had emerged from the talks. He also remarked on the significance of the service user contribution to the field and the need to expand the neuroimaging research successes beyond psychosis to other clinical disorders.

The meeting concluded with the presentation of poster prizes by Dr Danai Dima and Matthew Howard, rounding off what was a scintillating showcasing of the stunning research outcomes in neuroimaging and experimental medicine achieved by the neuroimaging theme of the BRC Experimental Medicine and Clinical Trials Cluster and associates in the BRU. The translational potential of this research to lead to more effective diagnostic and treatment modalities for patients presages a more positive future for everyone who suffers from mental disorder.


Tags: Patient and carer engagement and involvement - Neuroimaging - Precision psychiatry -

By NIHR Maudsley BRC at 2 Dec 2015, 16:23 PM


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