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New national centre to transform medical imaging

Posted on 23 October 2014

A new £6.8 million research centre based across two Yorkshire universities will aim to transform diagnosis and treatment of patients suffering from cancer, heart disease and musculoskeletal diseases with the help of new medical imaging facilities to be created at Leeds Teaching Hospitals and the University of York.

The funding from the Medical Research Council is part of a package worth more than £230 million for universities across Britain announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne today (Thursday, October 23).

Researchers from the University of Leeds and the University of York will work on a new imaging method which could see the signal in MRI scanners increase up to 100,000 fold.

This will give medical professionals new insights into the workings of the human body in health and illness. The new method also has the potential to make the development of new drugs more effective.

The technique, which is known as Signal Amplification by Reversible Exchange, or SABRE, has been developed by scientists at the University of York. It works by magnetically labelling drugs or substances that occur naturally in the body, without changing their molecular structure, making the method very safe and versatile.

Together with doctors at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, the researchers at the University of Leeds will be responsible for applying the technique to patients. For this purpose, a new imaging centre with a new MRI scanner, patient facilities and a laboratory is being installed at Leeds General Infirmary. Building work is set to start next year, with the first patients being recruited for trials in 2016.

The University of York will use part of the Medical Research Council funding for a new MRI scanner to replace their existing one.

Professor Sven Plein, leader of the research team from the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, said: “This is a great example of bench to bedside research that we hope will have a profoundly positive impact on the lives of patients.

“Together with colleagues at the University of York, we hope that this technique could in future be applied to every MRI scanner in the country, massively enhancing how medical professionals diagnose illness in patients.”

Professor Gary Green from the York Neuroimaging Centre (YNiC) and Professor Simon Duckett, from York’s Department of Chemistry, lead the development of SABRE. Professor Green said: “It is wonderful and very exciting that our Wellcome Trust sponsored research will be made available for use in the clinic. This funding will also allow us extend the use of the methodology to a much wider range of pharmaceutical and diagnostic agents.”

The development of the SABRE technique in York is being driven forward at a £7m purpose-built research facility that opened last year. The Centre for Hyperpolarisation in Magnetic Resonance (CHyM) houses over 30 research scientists and combines the world-class expertise of research scientists from the University of York’s Departments of Chemistry, Psychology and Biology, as well as the Hull York Medical School.

The SABRE project has already gained over £12m investment from the Wellcome Trust, Bruker Biospin and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

George Osborne also announced that the University of Leeds has also received a further grant of £1.1 million to explore how single cells in the body operate and how they evolve as a result of disease.

The aim of this project is to improve diagnosis of genetic diseases, as well as to study how early-stage cancer cells evolve and how they develop into aggressive forms of cancer.

Other goals of the project, to be based at Leeds Teaching Hospitals and the University of Leeds, include studying key events surrounding infection of cells by viruses and improving the number of different data collection methods that can be applied to one cell.

Professor David Bonthron, of the School of Medicine, who is leading the project for the University of Leeds, said: “We hope that the new discoveries we make during this project will translate very quickly to benefitting patients.

“This new facility will allow us to develop internationally competitive research programmes in genetics and other areas of biomedicine.”

The new facility will be managed jointly by the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Experts from the Faculty of Biological Sciences and the Faculty of Mathematics and Physical Sciences will also be involved in the project.  

Julian Hartley, Chief Executive of Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “These investments are fantastic news, bringing further high quality research to our hospitals and putting us and our partners at the cutting edge of the development of new technology with potentially vital benefits for future patients. These exciting projects will enhance our already strong joint working with the two universities and our local NHS partners.”


Further information:

  • The University of York was founded in 1963 and now has more than 30 academic departments and research centres. It is a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities.
  • More information on the Centre for Hyperpolarisation in Magnetic Resonance (CHyM) at the University of York at
  • The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities.
  • Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. The Trust is home to two of the largest teaching hospitals in the UK, employing 15,000 staff and treating nearly 1.5 million patients a year, with a budget of around £1 billion. It is a major research centre as well as a provider of a wide range of regional and national specialist services.
  • The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Twenty-nine MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms.

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