Translating frontier technology to clinical practice to solve real world problems in mental health

Professor Roger Fulton, BMRI Imaging Physics Program, and Professor Robert Howman-Giles from the Children’s Hospital at Westmead have established collaborative NHMRC funded projects at Westmead Hospital to develop and clinically evaluate PET and CT motion correction methods for paediatric, trauma and dementia patients. Motion is a significant problem in all these patients.

Motion correction in PET and CT are likely to be particularly useful in young children who otherwise would require sedation or general anaesthesia to ensure a successful motion-free scan.

The ability to correct for motion in CT (a very recent development which provides a world-first capability) will also remove the need for repeat scans when patients move, thus avoiding an unnecessary repeat dose of radiation.

New and improved motion tracking and correction

The Imaging Physics team continue to pursue new and improved methods of motion tracking and correction including:

  1. the imaging of awake and freely moving small animals. The animals will be able to move about freely within a cage, opening up the possibility of performing an even greater range of behavioural studies.
  2. new motion tracking methods for human and small animal imaging, including the use of accelerometers, video tracking based on facial features, and estimating motion from the acquired raw scan data.

A new PET scanner

The Imaging Physics team are working on a project to design and build a new PET scanner specifically for awake animal imaging.

This project is being planned in collaboration with researchers at UC Davis, USA. The new PET scanner will have a larger field of view, consistent resolution across the field and be more amenable to freely moving animals.

MRI-SPECT imaging

The Imaging Physics team are working towards the development of multimodal imaging, combining high resolution structural imaging afforded by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with the highly specific functional imaging offered by single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT).

Successfully combining the two modalities offers enormous potential for combining anatomical and functional information. This project is being planned in collaboration with researchers at the University of Wollongong and Johns Hopkins University, USA.

New insights into brain disease through PET imaging

In collaboration with Professor Steven Meikle and Associate Professor Roger Fulton from the BMRI’s Imaging Physics Program, researchers in the Behavioural Neuroscience Program are applying the PET motion correction technology developed by the Imaging Physics team to study the changes in receptor binding associated with learning in awake, freely moving rats. In the study, the rats hear a clicking sound and are given a sugar reward, providing a model of predictive learning.

This study will reveal how predictive learning results in specific changes in brain neurochemistry, giving greater insights into brain diseases like depression, schizophrenia and dementia where people may exhibit abnormal predictions of rewarding events.