SINAPSE network enhances strengths to develop world-class future in medical imaging for Scotland

Scotland has a strong legacy as one of the pioneers of medical imaging. In the late 70s, Aberdeen University became the first institution to develop a full body MRI scanner; the system named the Mark I prototype was an enormous step forward for healthcare. A standard feature on current hospital wards, obstetric ultrasound was also developed by a team of researchers in Scotland. More recently, Scotland has developed a celebrated reputation for the development of innovative techniques and applications to produce high quality medical imaging information for clinicians and researchers.

A CT image of the heart produced at the Clinical Research Imaging Centre (CRIC) at the University of Edinburgh

Scotland has utilised its heritage and used it as an opportunity to push its strengths further; this is led by the ‘Scottish Imaging Network: A Platform for Scientific Excellence’ (SINAPSE) with the aim of developing a world-class future in medical imaging for Scotland. The network draws on the combined expertise of six Scottish universities, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, and Stirling and is the medical imaging research pool for Scotland. Created in 2007, it has brought high-quality imaging research together within Scotland, and through positive outcomes has permanently put Scotland on the map for transforming healthcare. The SINAPSE network has leading strengths in MRI, CT, PET, SPECT, Ultrasound, EEG, Functional Neuroimaging and Retinal Imaging. This is being used to enhance imaging research and education through strategic academic and industry collaborations.

Enhancing strengths with advanced technology

Three decades on since Scotland’s first MRI scanner, the country has invested in some of the most advanced imaging technology in the world to support its research. In 2016, Scotland's first clinical 7T MRI system, a MAGNETOM Terra from Siemens Healthineers is being placed in the new Imaging Centre of Excellence (ICE) Building at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital Glasgow. The technology will enable researchers and clinicians to study the human body in greater resolution than ever before. The system is amongst the most powerful of its kind for use in a clinical research setting, allowing techniques to take place that can only be performed through powerful, ultra-high frequency MR. The MRI is joined by Scotland’s first MR-PET scanning technology, a BiographTM mMR from Siemens Healthineers. The system is located in the University of Edinburgh’s Clinical Research Imaging Centre, combining two of the most effective scanning procedures for clinical research in areas such as dementia and cardiovascular disease. It complements existing facilities including new state-of-the-art Siemens brain optimised 3T MRI in the major South East Scotland regional acute hospital, plus 3T MRI for body imaging PET-CT and radiochemistry.

Creating a research base renowned across the world

With links to extensive academic and medical imaging research, the SINAPSE network is able to create a shared environment which encourages and enhances strategic research, education and knowledge exchange. However, its reach does not end at Scotland’s borders; it is extended beyond Scotland and the UK, contributing to studies across the globe.

In the past year Scotland has developed worldwide partnerships in medical imaging; representatives from Scotland visited Taiwan, China, the USA and several European countries to collaborate on many research topics, including neuroimaging research for clinical applications, development of novel technologies and applications in stroke and dementia, psychology, cardiovascular imaging, MR elastography and pulmonary imaging. Along with this, a number of international scientific meetings including the annual meeting of the European Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine and Biology and the International Workshop for Pulmonary Functional Imaging have been hosted in Scotland. These brought delegates from across the world including USA, Canada, South Korea, Japan and Europe to discuss the latest innovations in imaging research.

Creating value for Scottish society and the economy

Scotland’s developments in medical imaging are increasing public awareness and understanding of imaging across the nation. The work it produces is having a direct impact on improving healthcare for the people of Scotland and beyond. The expertise is also benefiting the pharmaceutical industry and manufacturers of imaging equipment to create new treatments and procedures, leading to scientific and commercial success and bringing in significant revenue to the Scottish economy.

As medical imaging in Scotland looks to flourish, and the next generation of researchers are developing essential skills to continue the great work, opportunities are immense. The country is in an excellent position to participate in the upcoming growth of the industry, based on the first-class research being undertaken to enhance medical research and clinical applications across the world.

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