SINAPSE delivering improved medical imaging for key diseases

More effective medical imaging to help diagnose and treat patients with Alzheimer’s, stroke, cancer and other conditions is one of the key goals of a major research network holding its first scientific meeting in Edinburgh tomorrow (Wednesday, June 17).

SINAPSE - Scottish Imaging Network: A Platform for Scientific Excellence - is a world class consortium of researchers from six Scottish universities with expertise predominantly in brain imaging.

Scientists involved in the collaboration - believed to be the only one of its type in the world - are pooling and expanding research into brain imaging.

The network is also helping to attract top quality imaging researchers to Scotland as well as delivering better training in the use of imaging technologies – MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), PET (Positron Emission Tomography), single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), and EEG (electroencephalogram) – applied around the world in the diagnosis and treatment of many medical conditions.

Tomorrow's conference will see information shared on a wide range of medical imaging studies being conducted by SINAPSE collaborators.

One of these, led by the University of Aberdeen, has found that older women who live alone, and have vascular problems like diabetes and high blood pressure, are more vulnerable to symptoms of depression.

This was one of a number of findings from a long running study into ageing and brain function involving hundreds of volunteers from Aberdeen and Lothian over a number of years. Thanks to these volunteers, who were all born in 1936, and have given brain scans, body measurements, blood tests and completed other tests over the years, researchers have made a series of discoveries linking childhood factors with dementia and Alzheimer's.

While it was already known that older people with vascular disease can suffer late onset depression, this study - which examined brain scans taken when the volunteers where 68 - revealed that women, rather than men, are more prone to get depressed in later life.

It showed that brain lesions – caused by blood vessel disease – were associated with depressive symptoms. It also showed the area of the brain where these lesions are found.

Work being done to fast track cancer patients through the NHS is another one of the studies that will be discussed at tomorrow's SINAPSE meeting.

The University of Dundee is heading a pilot study that involves fast tracking cancer patients so they get an earlier scan to check for secondary tumours in the spine which could put pressure on the spinal cord. Early diagnosis for patients in this situation may enable them to walk for longer, remaining independent at home, rather than being admitted to hospital.

Professor Richard Lerski of the University of Dundee said: "Joint projects are also now starting where the expertise of SINAPSE will be directed towards expert assessments of new techniques of great benefit to healthcare in general. The first such project will be looking at the use of MRI in breast screening."

Another study involves the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen and is investigating the best ways of scanning stroke patients to identify earlier the brain tissue that could be salvaged by clot busting drugs.

Dr Alison Murray, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Radiology at the University of Aberdeen, is Deputy Director of SINAPSE. She said: "SINAPSE is the only imaging network of its kind in the world and it is recognised internationally as an exemplary way of doing collaborative research into many major diseases in a way that will have direct benefits for the patients of Scotland and beyond.

"Our first scientific meeting is about exchanging the knowledge we have gathered from our work so far which will eventually translate into the care of patients being treated for a wide range of serious diseases and disorders."

Professor Joanna Wardlaw, SINAPSE Director and Professor of Applied Neuroimaging at the University of Edinburgh said: "Imaging is a very powerful tool for finding out how the brain works and what goes wrong in common diseases like stroke and schizophrenia. These diseases have a huge impact on society. Through imaging, we now know more about their causes, how the brain responds and can test the effectiveness of new treatments. Working together through SINAPSE, we can now do these studies across Scotland, so finding new treatments more quickly."

Dr Janet de Wilde, SINAPSE Coordinator, added: "SINAPSE has provided a unique collaborative environment for cross centre imaging research that has enabled all researchers from students to staff to work more effectively together to benefit patients. This scientific meeting is an opportunity for the wider community to see the research outcomes."