The National Imaging Facility’s (NIF) capabilities are expanding with three leading research institutions joining the national network, La Trobe University’s school of Cancer Medicine, the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI), Macquarie University, and the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) Imaging Centre.
The new nodes will further diversify NIF’s network to include research capability and training in rural and remote communities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities and cutting-edge molecular imaging for treating cancer and cognitive decline. The NIF network will grow from 10 national nodes to 13 across Australia and will strengthen research expertise in dementia, brain concussion imaging, cancer biology, neurodegenerative diseases, molecular imaging probes for cancer, and drug development.
NIF’s first regional node, located in Newcastle is a joint partnership with the HMRI Imaging Centre and the University of Newcastle, and will provide direct links with regional and rural communities, facilitated through the University’s established regional research engagement programs, improving health research outcomes in remote and vulnerable populations and support Aboriginal communities whose health priorities include deafness, renal disease, and neurodegenerative disorders.
“The HMRI Imaging Centre is delighted to be joining NIF. We deliver important translational imaging research for the wider Hunter region and bridge the gap between urban, regional and rural communities. The facility is an international leader in human foetal imaging and spectroscopy and supports flagship translational projects in cancer, dementia, psychosis, inflammatory diseases and cardiorespiratory disease” said Professor Michael Breakspear, Node Co-director from the University of Newcastle and the HMRI Imaging Centre.
Associate Professor Saad Ramadan, Node Co-director from the University of Newcastle and the HMRI Imaging Centre, said the centre facilitates fundamental discovery research and technical developments in sequence optimization and implementation and its partnership with the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Local Health District (HNELHD) and NSW Regional Health Partners. The facility supports multiple institutional, community and industrial partners including Corvia Medical Inc. and Australian Cardiovascular Alliance (ACvA).
The new Macquarie University Node provides national access to pre-clinical medical and research imaging capabilities within MQ Health and has a full biomedical imaging suite including (x-ray, CT, MRI, PET) located within Macquarie University Hospital (MUH); and magnetoencephalography (MEG) and related electrophysiological recording technologies located within the Australian Hearing Hub. The new NIF node has the only paediatric MEG facility in Australia and is one of only two in the country.
Macquarie University’s Professor of Radiology, John Magnussen said the facility supports studies of children who have developmental disorders and has integrated radiology and molecular imaging facilities that allows for time critical clinical research to inform and improve patient recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
“This environment allows access to high-quality imaging techniques and datasets with relevant clinical information and supports dementia brain imaging that will inform a national framework for concussion imaging and capacity for pharma-sponsored clinical trials. There are more than 100 actives trials, which give broad access to the community and researchers and we are thrilled to be part of NIF providing open access to imaging expertise,” Professor Magnussen said.
La Trobe’s University’s School of Cancer Medicine, ONJCRI is at the frontier of cancer medicine, with over 200 ongoing clinical trials, providing patients with access to experimental and breakthrough treatments including immunotherapies, targeted therapies and personalised medicine.
The new La Trobe-ONJCRI node will provide an integrated molecular imaging program that extends from laboratory research, including biology, chemistry, biotechnology, through to novel probe radiochemistry and validation in animal imaging (PET and MRI) prior to human trials.
Professor Andrew Scott AM, Director of the La Trobe-ONJCRI node said “We are excited to be joining NIF. This exciting partnership and the installation of a preclinical PET/3T MRI scanner in a dedicated imaging suite within our facility will enable ongoing and enhanced basic and translational research to be performed, linked to our world-class radiochemistry and human PET facilities on site. With the increased capacity we look forward to further collaborations with academia, Pharma and Biotech to facilitate research, drug development and clinical studies”.
NIF’s Chief Executive Officer, Professor Wojtek James Goscinski said NIF is excited to welcome three outstanding facilities to our network which will provide Australian researchers with access to a range of unique instruments across three new sites, and Australia’s network of applied imaging expertise, with this addition, National Imaging Facility capabilities span 14 sites.
“I’d like to welcome the three nodes and their international imaging research leaders to the NIF network – their extensive and diverse research capability and expertise will improve Australians’ access to better healthcare, foster socio-economic equity for rural and remote communities and inform our global imaging communities on world-class research in dementia, brain and concussion imaging, cancer biology and drug development”.
National Imaging Facility is funded by the Australian Government, under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), State Governments, and its partners.[/tatsu_text][/tatsu_column] [/tatsu_row][/tatsu_section]
Early life stress (ELS) has been linked to abnormalities in brain structure and function and may contribute to increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia later in life. ELS has also been associated with the high prevalence of dementia observed in older Aboriginal Australians.
A study at NIF’s UNSW Node, NeuRA Imaging is engaging the Australian Aboriginal community to investigate structural and pathological brain changes that underlie in high rates of dementia and cognitive decline in older Aboriginal Australians.
This will be the first study that investigates neuroimaging in cognitive impairment in older Aboriginal Australians and will inform dementia prevention, diagnosis and policy. It will also contribute to the wider literature on vascular risk in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease and associated biomedical and social risk factors.
After extensive community engagement with partnering Aboriginal communities including La Perouse, NSW, the initial consultation stage of NeuRA’s Koori Growing Old Well Study indicated that neuroimaging should be included in future dementia studies (Lavrencic et al., 2020, Int Psychogeriatr). Led by NeuRA’s, researchers including Dr Kylie Radford, Professor Tony Broe AM and Dr Louise Lavrencic, the Koori Growing Old Well Study included a community planning survey, pilot MRI study and guidance from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Steering Committee.
“NIF’s capabilities are allowing this study to investigate underlying brain changes and pathology in ageing and dementia in partnership with Aboriginal communities. The study will give greater detail and is using sophisticated and novel MRI techniques. By having the facility in-house at NeuRA it also means we can ensure a culturally safe and welcoming environment for our participants. With a rapidly ageing population and high rates of dementia, we hope that this ground breaking study will shed light on important ways to promote healthy brain ageing with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” said Dr Kylie Radford, Senior Research Scientist and Group Leader, Neuroscience Research Australia.
The neuroimaging sub-study is a prospective, cross-sectional non-interventional study where participants will first complete a comprehensive interview and diagnostic assessment as part of the Koori Growing Old Well study. Consenting participants (200) aged 55+ will undergo MR scans with an expected study completion by 2023.
The outcome analyses will include identifying associations between cognitive impairment and hippocampal atrophy/volume and vascular indices on MR. Vascular pathology will be examined for cases of possible or probable Alzheimer’s disease compared to a cognitively intact control group. Correlations between MR measures and early life stress, adult risk and protective factors, cognitive function, and clinically diagnosed cognitive impairment will be investigated.
Biogen’s Aducanumab (Aduhelm) is the first disease modifying therapy for AD approved by the The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). NIF’s positron emission tomography (PET) imaging facilities at the University of Melbourne, HIRF and the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) supported the Australian trial recruitment of the Biogen Phase 3 trial by screening potentially suitable participants with amyloid PET scans in collaboration with the Australian Imaging Biomarkers and Lifestyle Study of Ageing at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and Austin Health.
To prescribe the treatment for prodromal and early clinical AD it will be necessary to use imaging both PET and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)/blood biomarkers to ensure that subjects being treated have AD and that side effects from Aduhelm are properly managed.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common type of dementia making up 70% of all dementia. There are about 300,000 Australians currently living with the disease, with the average disease duration of 10 years equating to 30,000 new cases each year. These numbers are predicted to triple by 2050.
The degeneration within the brain begins two to three decades before overt symptoms, highlighting early detection is critical. NIF’s University of Melbourne Node and the Herston Imaging Research Facility (HIRF) have been involved in several dementia trials, studying different aspects of the disease including early biomarker detection, combining state of the art multimodality imaging, genetics and neuropsychology. NIF is working to assess novel radiotracers as a diagnostic tool for early detection of AD and the development of a national network of radiotracers for dementia screening in collaboration with QTRaCE and the Australia Dementia Network (ADNeT). This research aids the success of new preventative medicines, both through repurposing an existing drug and novel drug development and improves classification of AD subtypes, which impact treatment profiles.
NIF has played a major role in helping Australia to maintain its leadership in imaging applied to the dementias, particularly in AD. This has occurred at multiple sites around the country since 2012. The advent of disease modifying therapies for AD will cause an increase in demand for services and it will be crucial for new innovative and cost effective methods of service delivery in our increasingly ageing population.