Translational & high-impact research awards

In March 2016, the Neuroimaging theme of the NIHR Maudsley BRC issued a call for research projects to inject forward momentum into increased impact and direct translation of neuroimaging research.  The theme's leadership team wanted to identify and support several showcase projects that would set an example of boosting the impact of neuroimaging research in the field, and / or accelerating the translation of this type of research for patient benefit.

The Neuroimaging theme has already awarded funds for over 30 different pilot research studies in MRI and PET neuroimaging. It has also supported the provision of neuroimaging infrastructure for additional research across the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London

Successful applicants had to:

  • Fall within the remit of the Neuroimaging Theme aims and objectives, and the overall BRC/BRU-D strategies
  • Be able to translate neuroimaging research into tangible treatment and disease management strategies and / or strengthen the impact of research for clinical and patient benefit
  • Include a novel and innovative approach/content. I.e. include new methods or creative and efficient approaches within its scientific field to achieve its goal.
  • Prove feasibility to deliver within a very short timescale (within 6 - 9 months).

Applicants could apply for up to £50,000 for their study, and applications were assessed by internal and external reviewers.

Five projects were successful:

Depression is among the leading causes of disability, mainly because of recurrent major depressive (MD) episodes. Why some patients have recurring MD whilst others remain well is poorly understood. By developing predictors of recurrence risk, we will be able to develop better treatments and stratified approaches to improve long-term outcomes. The proposed study aims at optimising the predictive value of our recently discovered neural signature thereby delivering the first biomarker of MD recurrence risk with the potential to be practically useful by reaching the agreed benchmark of 80% predictive accuracy. If successful, this project will lead to the first biomarker to predict recurrence of depression at an individual level with high accuracy. This will enable future translation into improved early drug discovery by the pharmaceutical industry, thereby catalysing the development of novel antidepressant drugs.

Applicant: Dr Roland Zahn, Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London

The risk of inducing motor disability in neurosurgical patients with brain tumour is very high, limiting the possibility of radical resection and increasing the frequency and rapidity of tumour recurrence. Recently, the use of intraoperative Direct Electrical Stimulation (DES) has reduced the risk of motor disability and increased life expectancy. Nevertheless, DES is applied only to prevent severe motor deficits resulting from damage to the corticospinal tract. Other motor disabilities related to impaired sensorimotor integration and motor planning (e.g. apraxia) remain high. The aim of the study is: i) to develop a multimodal imaging approach for the comprehensive mapping of the motor system in tumour patients undergoing neurosurgery; ii) to assess feasibility and generate preliminary data on the clinical utility of the proposed multimodal approach. The study will help to assess the utility of preoperative imaging for surgical indication and planning, intraoperative mapping, and surgical resection. The correspondence between noninvasive mapping and intraoperative stimulation will validate the noninvasive mapping methods and will identify predictors of motor outcomes.

Applicant: Dr Francesco Vergani, Department of Neurosurgery, King's College Hospital, London

HealthTracker™ (HT) is an existing web-based health-monitoring platform that has been developed using input from patients, parents and expert clinicians. The system allows for automated scoring and immediate feedback of statistical cut-off points and assists clinicians with diagnostic decision-making and optimises use of clinician time. The aim of this study is to develop a phenotype capture system for the e-health augmented HealthTracker™ platform for use with neuroimaging studies. We will use the validated adolescent version of the Profile Of Neuropsychiatric Symptoms (PONS) scale on children and adolescents aged 8 – 18 years. It is anticipated that the use of the platform will enable us to identify and understand the requirements of patient phenotyping across the age range and across disorders thus optimising the profiling of patients with neuroimaging data, which then can be used in a ‘big data’ manner for other studies.

Applicant: Dr Paramala Santosh, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London

Biological markers to predict developing psychiatric illness or to stratify the patient population, would be of considerable value. The portability and low cost of Electroencephalography (EEG) means that it is readily useable in the clinic, but in order to use software for diagnosis or in a clinical trial it must be CE marked. This requires the code to be written and tested in a manner that is compliant with regulations. In addition, there is increasing interest in the gamma band (>30Hz) of neural oscillations, especially in research into psychosis and pharmaceutical studies. However, gamma the most heavily contaminated part of the EEG signal, and methods for correction in commercial, CE marked software are ineffective in cleaning gamma. The aim of this project is to re-write the gamma processing software in a manner that is: compliant with the regulations required for CE marking; efficient in terms of computer resources and user friendly.

Applicant: Dr Judith Nottage, Department of Neuroimaging, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London

Online neuroimaging databases and data repositories of functional MRI results are getting popular and used by researchers every day. They provide a unique service for both neuroimaging and neuroscience communities by allowing queries and interactive explorations of brain functions and their anatomical location across multiple datasets. An equivalent platform for diffusion and tractography data is currently not available. The aim of this study is to build an online platform for researchers and clinicians to explore and interrogate structural, diffusion and tractography data while generating in real-time customised datasets, study-matched templates and brain atlases according to specific filtering criteria (e.g. demographic, behavioural and, in principle, also genetic information). In first instance this portal will provide high quality, normative neuroimaging and tractography data that can be access by neuroscience and neuroimaging researchers as well as clinicians than may need to compare a single patient data with an age and gender match control dataset. If successful this project could be a prototype for a much larger portal where an indefinite number of psychiatric and neurological disorders and imaging modalities can be organised, accessed and shared.

Applicant: Dr Flavio Dell'Acqua, Department of Neuroimaging and Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Sciences, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London

Each project will provide progress updates at two interim milestone dates. After project completion in March 2017, key outcomes of the studies will be published on this webpage.

To find out more about the awards, please contact Anoushka Leslie, Project and Scientific Coordinator of the BRC Neuroimaging theme at anoushka.leslie@kcl.ac.uk.