Scottish imaging network delivers improved medical imaging for key
17 July 2009
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 SINAPSE, a major Scottish research network.
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
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).
The network has conducted a wide range of medical imaging studies.
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
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.
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
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
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.”
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