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Defining the future of imaging research

Scotland has a central role in the history of medical imaging, from electromagnetic fields in the 19th century to the more recent obstetric ultrasound, nuclear medicine and magnetic resonance imaging. SINAPSE celebrates and continues that tradition as the Scottish pooling group for imaging research.

Scotland has a central role in the history of medical imaging, from the classical theory of electromagnetic fields formulated by James Clerk Maxwell in the 19th century to the more recent pioneering contributions of Ian Donald [Glasgow] in obstetric ultrasound and John Mallard [Aberdeen] in nuclear medicine and magnetic resonance imaging. SINAPSE celebrates and continues that tradition as the Scottish pooling group for imaging research.

SINAPSE is a consortium of six Scottish universities and participation in the network is open to all imaging researchers in Scotland. SFC funding, which began in 2007 and is now in place until 2019, is used to maintain a shared national environment for imaging research, knowledge exchange and education.

Much human imaging research requires the use of large scanners installed at specially equipped facilities within a handful of Scotland’s leading universities and hospitals. These scanners enable researchers to obtain images of bodily structure and function in a non-invasive way. This concentration of specialised research imaging facilities is the setting in which SINAPSE supports collaborative work which in turn leverages more broadly distributed expertise.

Cortical surface reconstruction depicting cortical depths from superficial (red) to deep (purple) layers. Image credit: Prof Lars Muckli SINAPSE also links academic and NHS medical imaging research, focussing research directly towards improving health and quality of life. Strong working relationships between SINAPSE centres puts Scotland at an advantage for multicentre imaging studies. This has been beneficial for attracting international clinical trials and also for carrying out groundbreaking research in Scotland. A recent example of this is Stratifying Resilience And Depression Longitudinally (STRADL), a project to develop improved diagnostic tests and new therapies for depression by identifying its causes and mechanisms. The study includes brain MRI scans acquired at three SINAPSE sites.

The collaborative aspect of SINAPSE research has been successful because the field of imaging research is well served by resource sharing and is also interdisciplinary by nature. SINAPSE members have backgrounds that range across medicine, physics, psychology, computer science, and chemistry, yet all with a common interest in imaging. The national SINAPSE Annual Scientific Meeting brings together this diversity of expertise to share latest findings – the breadth of which is balanced by ongoing activities within four SINAPSE topic groups dedicated to Molecular Imaging, Image Analysis, Psychology, and Ultrasound. Knowledge exchange is also facilitated through imaging research collaborations with industry partners and through engagement with other Scottish pooling groups, innovation centres, and NHS networks.

SINAPSE is committed to ensuring high quality training to develop future generations of imaging researchers in Scotland. This work benefits from the legacy of the widely-admired SINAPSE Graduate School, supported during the first phase of funding. SINAPSE is also actively committed to increasing public awareness and understanding of imaging. A notable public resource created by SINAPSE is a free eLearning website  consisting of ten modules which explain in non-technical ways how medical imaging techniques work and what they can be used for.

SINAPSE serves as the node for research imaging activity in Scotland, and through its pooled expertise and resources it achieves a dynamic and internationally competitive critical mass in the Scottish imaging research base. Recent investment in world-class imaging facilities, including Scotland’s first 7T clinical MRI scanner in Glasgow and Scotland’s first MR PET system in Edinburgh, attest to the strength of this research base and to the value of its interdisciplinary and collaborative merits. Scotland is recognised for leading the way for past innovations in medical imaging, and SINAPSE ensures that Scotland will help to define the future of imaging research.

Dr Kristin Flegal, SINAPSE Lead Scientist - 29 Mar 2017