Boosting health innovation and commercialisaton: $2m Queensland Government investment in National Imaging Facility

The Queensland Government Department of Environment, Science and Innovation has announced $2m will be awarded to National Imaging Facility (NIF) capabilities in Queensland through the Research Infrastructure Co-Investment Fund (RICF). 

RICF co-invests with universities, research centres and industry to support facilities of national significance, and this grant will contribute to NIF capabilities and operations at the University of Queensland (UQ) Centre for Advanced Imaging (CAI) and Herston Imaging Research Facility (HIRF). 

This investment will enhance imaging research infrastructure in Queensland, increasing the leverage of the Australian Government Department of Education’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) funding secured by NIF last year.  

NIF operates Queensland’s most advanced biomedical imaging equipment across CAI and HIRF, and collaborates with research and clinical precinct partners, including QUT, QIMR-Berghofer and Brisbane’s Metro North Hospital and Health Service (MNHHS), bridging the gap between scientific breakthroughs and patient outcomes, to provide a strong research translation pathway. 

NIF HIRF Node Director, Prof Katie McMahon said RICF’s funding will bolster NIF’s Queensland operations to maintain and expand cutting-edge advanced imaging capabilities and expertise, underpinning the translation of research into tangible health discoveries and commercialisation opportunities. 

“NIF’s integrated imaging facilities provide a translational pathway from discovery to preclinical testing through to first-in-human studies and clinical trials,” Prof McMahon said. 

“We’re proud to work with pharmaceutical and biomedical industry partners to accelerate the development of the latest scientific discoveries into better outcomes for patients, including creating new medical products and therapies to treat diseases like dementia, cancer and epilepsy.” 

NIF CEO Prof Wojtek Goscinski said this co-funding would ensure scientists have access to the most advanced translational research infrastructure in Australia. 

“RICF’s co-investment in NIF will help facilitate the procurement of state-of-the-art advanced imaging equipment. Additionally, it will help attract, train and create jobs for the world-class experts critical to driving innovation through this infrastructure.” Prof Goscinski said. 

Read the full media statement from the Department of Environment, Science and Innovation here. 

National Imaging Facility to host showcase session at ANZSNM 2024

National Imaging Facility will host a showcase session at the 2024 ANZSNM Annual Scientific Meeting, ‘Discover the Nucleus’ which will run from 26-28 April 2024 in Ōtautahi Christchurch.

Session details:

National Imaging Facility Showcase
Sunday 28 April
1:15pm – 2:00pm
Te Pae Auditorium

Speakers:

Prof Wojtek Goscinski
Introduction to National Imaging Facility

Prof Roslyn Francis
Toward an Australian Human Molecular Imaging Network

Dr Yaser Gholami
The National Imaging Facility PET Fellow Network

Click here for more information about the 2024 ANZSNM Annual Scientific Meeting and registration.

#IWD2024 | Breaking world records and gender barriers

Ultra-high field MRI is unveiling a picture of endurance, and helping to uncover the physical, social and emotional effects of Associate Professor Donna Urquhart’s incredible Antarctic ultramarathon to empower women and girls.


Harnessing physical and mental resilience to finish an Antarctic ultramarathon

Monash University pain and musculoskeletal researcher, A/Prof Donna Urquhart is pushing past physical limitations, unveiling the intricate connection between mind and body, with a crucial mission to empower girls and women in sports.

Donna made international headlines in January, after crossing the finish line of the longest ultramarathon in a polar region in history.

As the first woman to conquer this challenge, she ran 1,402km over the space of 28 days at the Union Glacier Camp in Antarctica – the coldest, windiest and driest desert on earth.

Donna said she wanted her run to be more than a record, using the attempt to launch a mission to empower young girls and women to love and discover what’s possible for them in sport, and break down the barriers to participation.

“The alarming statistics show that girls can find sport stressful, and by the age of 15 only 32% are still playing, leaving so few to benefit from the enormous physical, social and emotional aspects of sport,” Donna said.

It took a team of volunteers and two years of training, but Donna said pushing her physical limitations was only half of the battle, emphasising the crucial role of psychological strength in overcoming challenges – with the start of her run posing the most significant hurdle.

“When I first arrived in Antarctica, it was overwhelming. I didn’t know if I could live in a polar region and ultimately run 1,300km,” Donna said. 

She had set a goal to run 50km per day, but by the third day in, the enormity of this challenge hit hard and suddenly, with Donna forging through minus 20-degree 80km per hour winds and limited visibility.

Donna said the physical risks presented by these conditions such as stumbling and falling, hypothermia, polar thigh, frost bite and knee and foot pain, significantly impacted her confidence at the start of the ultramarathon. 

“That first week was so intense – it was a steep learning curve, and I had the realisation that my own initial lack of confidence mirrored the uphill battle women and girls face in sports,” Donna said.

“By pushing my own physical boundaries in this world-record attempt I want to show young girls and women what’s possible when you harness the power of the body and mind.”

“Confidence and self-belief were two emotions that I struggled with early, but this world record run taught me strategies that helped me push on, and I can’t wait to pass this knowledge onto other young women,” Donna said.


Ultra-high field functional imaging is charting new territories in extreme endurance and physical exercise

[Pictured: The multi-disciplinary imaging research team, including A/Prof Valentina Lorenzetti, Dr Chao Suo, Dr Hannah Thomson, Ethan Murphy, Anastasia Paloubis, and Arush Arun, with the assistance of University of Melbourne Lead MRI Radiographer Rebecca Glarin, are using imaging to examine the neurological and psychological effects on Donna during this exceptional feat.]

A multi-disciplinary research team is using imaging to examine the neurological and psychological effects on Donna as a result of this exceptional feat, led in collaboration between Donna and A/Prof Valentina Lorenzetti, Lead of the Neuroscience of Addiction and Mental Health Program and Deputy Director of Australian Catholic University’s Healthy Brain and Mind Research Centre, and Dr Karyn Richardson, Wilson Foundation-Brain Park Research Fellow from Monash University.

Valentina leads the research team scanning Donna in collaboration with the University of Melbourne Brain Centre Imaging Unit (MBCIU)  on NIF’s ultra-high field Siemens Magnetom 7T MRI.

Donna’s exceptional achievement provides an exclusive opportunity for researchers to examine how her brain has changed pre-to-post polar ultramarathon; the 7T MRI can image brain function at a higher resolution than what could be captured on a traditional MRI scan.

[Pictured: Donna’s brain was scanned with the highest resolution anatomical sequences.]

Donna was scanned twice before the ultramarathon to account for measurement errors, and twice after the ultramarathon (about 2 weeks and 4 weeks), with the highest resolution anatomical sequences, combined with a state-of-the-art functional MRI scan to map the brain networks during rest.

[Pictured: Research imaging team lead A/Prof Valentina Lorenzetti and NIF University of Melbourne Lead MRI Radiographer, Rebecca Glarin]

Valentina said this series of scans can help to provide preliminary evidence on the brain changes that accompany extreme efforts when pushing the body and mind during an ultramarathon in an extreme climate.

“What Donna has done is amazing, and we need examples like this. Everyone knows that exercise is good for you – and now we have the opportunity to showcase the MRI brain images to help convey the message effectively,” Valentina said.


Bridging the mind-body gap: Understanding neurological and psychological insights

Complementary to the imaging study, researcher Dr Karyn Richardson led a mental health and wellbeing assessment to explore how Donna’s mental state changed before and after the event, and how these factors impacted her performance.

Karyn said mental state plays a powerful role in sport, exercise, and endurance and this was a wonderful opportunity to explore these relationships.

Donna completed a variety of questionnaires before and after the ultramarathon to document her general wellbeing, stress and anxiety, coping and confidence.

She also rated a number of factors including pain, confidence, wellbeing, resilience and perceived stress daily in Antarctica, which helped her team to provide additional support during the challenge.

“The data mirrors Donna’s recount of the experience, with a significant period of adjustment over the first week of the run before she acclimatised to the environment and her body adjusted to the daily challenges,” Karyn said.

Karyn said the more confident Donna felt before her run, the quicker she completed the 50km for the day.

“Research has shown that resilience, belief in yourself, and the ability to push through physical challenges are incredibly important for these types of activities, and this is precisely what Donna has done.”

“Donna’s achievement is truly remarkable and her passion to use her experience to inspire young women in sport has blown me away – she is an incredible role model in- and outside of sport,” Karyn said.


Redefining sport for women and girls: Embracing a holistic narrative beyond physicality

The Run Antartica initiative is creating social impact by raising awareness about females’ experience of sport, providing education on a holistic approach to sport, and raising funds for their charity partners, including in disadvantaged communities. Research shows that girls can find sport ‘stressful’ and that 50% stop participating during adolescence (aged 15-19 years). The reasons teenage girls withdraw from sport are multifactorial, however, one of the major contributors is having a lack of confidence.

“This research adds another layer to highlight that sport is about your body, but also about how you train your mind to address the cognitive and emotional components of sport and activity,” Donna said.

“We really see this as a pivotal time in history to evaluate the model we use to look at sport, and change the conversation from focusing on physicality to encompassing a holistic view.”

“We require a comprehensive framework, with a focus on educating young females in the development of cognitive, emotional and social skills in a sporting environment. Our professional athletes are provided with this approach – why aren’t our young people?” she said.

Donna’s mission to empower women and girls in sports aims to disrupt these historical trends which have contributed to dropout rates. In navigating this extraordinary feat, Donna is reshaping the narrative by which we view community-based sport in Australia, empowering the next generation of female athletes to develop a love of sport, and experience the important health and education benefits.

For more information about Donna’s mission or to donate, visit https://www.runantarctica.com/


This research was conducted using NIF expertise and 7T MRI facilities at the Melbourne Brain Centre Imaging Unit at the University of Melbourne.


National Imaging Facility User Experience Survey OPEN NOW

The National Imaging Facility (NIF) 2024 User Experience Survey is now open and will run for two weeks until 3 March 2024.

The survey is open to all users of NIF capabilities, including preclinical and clinical, human and animal imaging, radiochemistry, and imaging data analysis, and only takes 5-10 minutes to complete.

Information collected from this survey is used to communicate the value of NIF capabilities to our stakeholders and is critical to justifying continued investment in NIF.

We appreciate your time and input. All survey responses are anonymous, and your feedback will be used to inform and improve NIF’s service delivery.

On completion of the survey, you will have the option to enter the draw to win one of 5 x $100 gift cards. Please note, to protect your anonymity the contact information received to enter the draw will not be analysed together with your survey responses.

Start the survey now

For more information, please contact us.

Announcement: New appointment to the NIF Governing Board

National Imaging Facility (NIF) has announced the appointment of Anne-Marie Lansdown to its Governing Board.

The independent Governing Board provides oversight and strategic guidance for all NIF activities and investments, supporting NIF’s objective to address Australia’s strategic science and research priorities, benefit Australian industry and help keep Australians healthy.

Ms Lansdown brings a deep understanding of the higher education and research environment through senior appointments in the public service, including as one of the original architects of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). Following her career in the public service she became Deputy Chief Executive of Universities Australia, the peak body for the sector.

NIF Governing Board Chair Prof Margaret Harding extended her congratulations to Ms Lansdown on the appointment.

“Anne-Marie’s impressive background and skills in the Australian research and innovation landscape make her a valuable addition to the NIF Governing Board,” Prof Harding said.

Prof Harding also expressed gratitude for the exemplary service of outgoing Directors, Ms Sue Renkin and Prof Stephen Rose, who completed their three-year terms of appointment to the NIF Governing Board at the end of 2023.

“I offer my thanks to Sue and Stephen for their major contributions to NIF as foundational members of NIF’s independent Governing Board. Both Sue and Stephen have brought a diversity of views and insights to Board discussions and their expertise has been highly valued.”

“These contributions have played a pivotal role in NIF’s achievements, and their legacy leaves us well-positioned future success,” Prof Harding said.

Read more about NIF’s independent Governing Board here.


Anne-Marie Lansdown

Anne-Marie Lansdown is an experienced public service and higher education Senior Executive and was one of the original architects of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). She was Deputy Chief Executive of Universities Australia, leading policy for Australia’s peak university organisation.

She is a Council Member of the University of Canberra, a Director at Collaborative Research Australia, an Advisory Council Member at the ARC Centre for Synthetic Biology, a Board Director for Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), and previously served as Board Director for the Giant Magellan Telescope Organisation.

Anne-Marie has previously held executive positions with the Office of Australia’s Chief Scientist, the Australian Government Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, and the departments of Education and Communications. Her international experience includes the United Nations and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Brain research supercharged by new ‘control panel’ accessible worldwide

The flood of data from brain research worldwide has now been channelled into an easy-to-use, open-access processing tool built to supercharge our understanding of the human brain.  

Neurodesk – a platform for processing, analysing and sharing massive datasets – has solved critical issues in the search for answers about brain disorders and diseases such as epilepsy, dementia, schizophrenia and traumatic brain injury. Neuroimaging data comes from modalities such as MRI, PET and MEG/EEG scans. 

Neurodesk was proposed at, led by and supported by National Imaging Facility partners including the University of Queensland, Swinburne University of Technology, and the Australian Imaging Service through University of Sydney.  

“It has removed a significant bottleneck that has hindered our ability to explore the complexities of the human brain, streamlining the processing of vast amounts of neuroimaging data,” says Dr Steffen Bollmann, project lead at the University of Queensland. 

[Image: Members of the Neurodesk team, Aswin Narayanan, Thuy Dao, Dr Steffen Bollmann. Image credit: Dr Nicholas Hamilton.]

Both individual people and society stand to benefit: unravelling the brain’s mysteries helps us find cures for debilitating brain disorders, relieve people of the pain of untreated mental health issues and its societal cost, develop personalised medical treatments, inform public health policies, and understand human behaviour. 

Neurodesk is like the ultimate, seamless sci-fi control panel. Accessible through a user-friendly browser interface, it works across operating systems, pulling together different neuroimaging programs that run in all different ways, and is able to run giant research projects or small ones with its seamless access to computing power. 

Dr Bollmann sees Neurodesk’s accessibility as a leap forward in democratising neuroscience tools: “It empowers researchers worldwide to use open-source neuroimaging tools effectively and focus on their research questions, rather than grappling with technical obstacles.” 

“It is difficult to overstate how much benefit Neurodesk provides to our facility,” says Dr Tim Rosenow, NIF Facility Fellow and Neurodesk user at UWA’s Centre for Microscopy Characterisation and Analysis. “Researchers no longer need to be experienced in IT to perform their analyses, because software, dependencies, and conflicts are already handled.” 

However, the most important aim of Neurodesk’s creators was reproducibility: the process of other researchers replicating studies to check results and build a foundation of reliable scientific knowledge. The platform contains techniques that enable researchers to accurately replicate other teams’ analyses.  

Scientists can even share and publish their analyses, which can significantly reduce time and effort for collaboration and creating new knowledge. They can then tackle bigger neuroscience questions and analyse larger datasets. 

The ability to handle huge amounts of data is crucial, moving forward in brain research. Neurodesk gives researchers access to supercomputers and cloud computing to process neuroimaging data efficiently, letting them work with ‘biobanks’ of data (for instance, the UK Biobank holds imaging data from 50,000+ people). 

“By simplifying neuroimaging, fostering collaboration and empowering scientists to handle huge datasets, this breakthrough not only advances our understanding of the healthy human brain, but also sheds light on the intricacies of various brain disorders,” says Dr Bollmann, “promising improved diagnostics and treatments in the future.” 

Read the new paper published in Nature Methods here. 

#ImagingTheFuture: The world-leading impact of the Australian biomedical imaging community

It’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s #ImagingTheFuture Week, celebrating the remarkable impact of the international biomedical imaging community.

We’re privileged to partner with our NCRIS colleagues at Microscopy Australia to present some of Australia’s impactful imaging projects, supported by our national research infrastructure.

Through open access to state-of-the-art expertise, equipment, tools, data and analysis, we’re proud to empower Australian medical researchers, materials and agriculture scientists to address pressing challenges across research and industry.

The power of advanced imaging technology is driving solutions for Australia’s strategic science and research priorities, fostering innovation, supporting industry and contributing to our health and wellbeing.

Scroll down to read more about some of the impactful and innovative biomedical imaging projects we support through our Preclinical and Frontier Imaging, Advanced Human Imaging, Radiopharmaceuticals, and Imaging Data Collections and Partnerships programs, or head over to our socials and the Microscopy Australia website for more Australian imaging.

Find us on social media:

National Imaging Facility
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Microscopy Australia
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About Australia’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS):
The Australian Government Department of Education helps maintain Australia’s reputation as an established global leader in world-class research by ensuring researchers have access to cutting edge national research infrastructure supported through the NCRIS program. More information: www.education.gov.au/ncris


Better evidence for decision-making in health

Advanced imaging methods and analysis provide critical evidence for decision-making across all aspects of health and clinical science to keep Australia healthy.
Harnessing MEG to model neural dynamics

Partner: Swinburne University of Technology

Imaging expertise:
A/Prof David White
Dr Will Woods

Instrument:
MEG Facility at Swinburne Neuroimaging.

Acknowledgements:
Miao Cao (Swinburne and Peking University), Jiayi Liu (Peking University), Wei Cui (Peking University), Xiongfei Wang (Capital Medical University Sanbo Brain Hospital), Will Woods (Swinburne), David White (Swinburne), Simon Vogrin (Swinburne), Chris Plummer (Swinburne), Changsong Zhou (Hongkong Baptist University), Jia-hong Gao (Peking University)

Image description:
Modelling neural dynamics from non-invasive MEG recordings has the potential to provide crucial insights in the fast-evolving physiological and pathological activity that gives rise to such dynamics. Combining MEG data acquired at the Swinburne NIF node and 3-D velocity field approaches in epilepsy patients, temporospatial patterns in 3-dimensional brain space were obtained and spiral patterns (including singularities) were revealed at seizure onset region, potentially suggesting highly non-linear dynamics and locally unbalanced excitatory-inhibitory neural networks were developed and progressed at seizure onset (from onset up to 1200ms) within the localised brain region. Such developments build on existing work with MEG technology to emphasise the utility of MEG in understanding brain function in health and disease. 

Enhancing Low-Field MRI Images through Generative Deep Learning

Partner:
Monash University, The University of Queensland, Herston Imaging Research Facility, SAHMRI, The University of Western Australia

Imaging expertise:
Dr Kh Tohidul Islam

Instrument:
Utilizing paired datasets from 100 healthy participants, images were obtained at Monash Biomedical Imaging facility using Hyperfine Swoop (64mT) and Siemens Biograph mMR (3T) systems. The deep learning model was trained to generate synthetic 3T-like images from 64mT images, and their performance was compared against actual 3T images.

Acknowledgements:
This project is funded by the National Imaging Facility (NIF) and Hyperfine Inc. Special thanks are extended to the NIF at Monash Biomedical Imaging, Monash University, for their facilities and support.

View publication for more information.

Image description:
The image displays MRI scans of a 38-year-old male participant. It includes T1, T2, and FLAIR sequences, each showing four columns: 64mT, 3T, Synthetic 3T, and the difference between 3T and synthetic 3T images. The synthetic images closely resemble the 3T images, demonstrating minimal anatomical variation and highlighting the model’s effectiveness in enhancing 64mT images. This research aims to improve low-field MRI images (64mT) using a Generative Deep Learning method, making them comparable to standard high-field (3T) MRI images.


Better health for the young and older Australians 

Imaging studies that look at conditions in younger and older Australians are essential for understanding and promoting healthy development and ageing.
Early detection of biomarker changes in Huntington’s Disease using PET imaging

Partner:
SAHMRI

Imaging expertise:
Dr Muneer Ahamed
Ms Georgia Williams

Instrument:
Large animal PET scanner at SAHMRI

Acknowledgements:
Expertise and help from radiochemistry team and large animal technicians at SAHMRI and contributions from researchers at University of Antwerp, University of Cambridge and University of Warwick drives this project. The authors acknowledge CHDI Foundation, New York for providing the preclinical models.

Find out more information here.

Image description:
A representative PET image showing [18F]FDOPA uptake in neostriatum in preclinical models.

Huntington’s Disease (HD) is a devastating neurodegenerative condition that causes cognitive, movement and behavioural disturbances, which over time result in progressive disability and eventual death. SAHMRI’s NIF fellows Dr. Muneer Ahamed and Ms. Georgia Williams leading a preliminary feasibility study to validate the use of transgenic preclinical models of HD in PET imaging studies. This study is expected to monitor early-stage (disease onset) and longitudinally evaluate biomarker changes in HD following the slow progression of the HD. This will be first time PET imaging is carried out in this type of HD preclinical model, with the help of NIF’s dedicated large animal PET scanner at SAHMRI.


Growing use of imaging in agriculture and ecology

Imaging is accelerating as an important capability for agricultural and ecological sciences.
Understanding the ecology of coral reefs

Partner:
University of Western Australia

Imaging expertise:
Ms Diana Patalwala

Instrument:
MicroCT

Acknowledgements:
Mr Damian Thomson, CSIRO

Image description:
Micro computerized tomography (μCT) scans of experimental Porites sp. blocks deployed in the lagoon and on the reef slope Ningaloo Reef for 20 months (605 days). Block images show representative scans of two individual blocks (a) pre- and (b) post-deployment in green, and areas of (c) external and (d) internal erosion post-deployment in red.

Porites corals can reveal the past sea conditions by their oxygen isotopes, which reflect the temperature and rainfall of the seawater. This information is useful for studying how the climate and weather patterns have changed over time, and how physical and biological factors influence the distribution and abundance of organisms on the seafloor.

DTI tractogram of a quokka brain: Exploring how marsuipials adapt to different environments

Partner:
Biological Resource Imaging Laboratory (BRIL), UNSW

Imaging expertise:
Dr Andre Bongers
Mr Simone Zanoni

Instrument:
Bruker BioSpec Avance III 94/20 Preclinical MRI

Acknowledgements:
Jyothi Thittamranahalli KariyappaSimone ZanoniAndre BongersLydia TongKen W. S. Ashwell

View publication for more information.


Cultural contributions to materials, engineering and culture

Many varied industrial and research problems— such as chemical processes, materials science, environmental and ecosystems research, security, palaeontology and cultural preservation—are increasingly opening up to the benefits of advanced imaging technologies.
Discovery of a new nasal-emitting trident bat from early Miocene forests in northern Australia

Partner:
Biological Resource Imaging Laboratory (BRIL), UNSW

Instrument:
MILabs U-CT microCT scanner

Acknowledgements:
Suzanne J. HandMichael ArcherAnna GillespieTroy Myers

View publication for more information.

Understanding equine anatomy: Investigating intestinal muscle structure to prevent rupture

Partner:
Western Sydney University

Instrument:
Diffusion tensor image of a cross-section of equine intestine taken using the 11.7 T MRI at the Biomedical Magnetic Resonance Facility (BMRF) at WSU Campbelltown campus.

Acknowledgements:
Kate Averay1, Denis Verwilghen1, Marianne Keller3, Neil Horadagoda2, Marina Gimeno2

1Camden Equine Centre, University Veterinary Teaching Hospital Camden, Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Australia

2Pathology Services, University Veterinary Teaching Hospital Camden, Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Australia

3Sydney School of Veterinary Science, University of Sydney, Australia

Image description:
The research group is looking at equine jejunum rupture and whether there are any anatomical differences in the rupture region. Colour-coding shows the anisotropy of the tissue. The key is on the upper right and shows red is left-right, green is up-down and blue is in and out of the screen. You can clearly see two layers of muscle: the red-green layer wrapping around the intestine and the blue layer running longitudinally.

2023: End of year message from the NIF CEO

Dear NIF Network, 

The past 12 months have been transformative for National Imaging Facility (NIF), Australia’s advanced imaging network. 

In 2023 the Australian Government Department of Education announced NIF would receive a sum of $46m NCRIS funding for 2023 – 2028, supporting Advanced Human Imaging, Preclinical and Frontier Imaging, Radiopharmaceuticals programs, and launching a new dedicated Data Collections and Partnerships program. This funding will allow NIF to address the growth of translational and precision medicine, extend industry use to benefit Australia’s health and wellbeing, and continue to operate, innovate and partner at an exemplary international standard. 

I’d like to acknowledge and thank the NIF network and our collaborators for their contributions to support this process, enabling NIF to advance a strong application, but also to continue to deliver world-class imaging. 

NIF helps translate research into outcomes that address national priorities. In the last year, our network has made headlines. We’ve supported a range of clinical trials, fostering advancements in medical research by helping to test the world’s first disease-modifying drugs to treat dementia, and improving diagnosis accessibility and treatment options for prostate cancer patients. Our cutting-edge experts have enabled scientific breakthroughs including the identification of a link between Long COVID and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, helped find the likely cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder, underpinned studies for novel treatments and the use of VR to help chronic pain sufferers, and harnessed technology to pinpoint epilepsy triggers in the brain. We’re proud to maintain Australia’s world-leading reputation in applying advanced imaging technology, and have deployed low-field MRI for testing in hospitals, underpinned one of only nine international labs holding the prestigious Helmholtz brand and received national media recognition for excellence in preclinical and frontier imaging techniques. Our users are world-class, and we were proud to support the exemplary scientists whose revolutionary work in drug discovery and cystic fibrosis lung health imaging was lauded at the 2023 Eureka Prizes. 

A new generation of services are set to further advance our mission. This year our teams have delivered a range of world-leading new investments and capabilities, including the opening of: 

It was a privilege to bring our national imaging community together in August for NIF’s Annual Scientific Meeting in Melbourne. Hosted in partnership with VBIC, this year’s Symposium was our most successful event to date, with just under 450 attendees from across Australia and the world. 

Engaging with the wider imaging community, our experts presented at a range of national and international events. My personal highlights were our Australian National Total Body PET Facility webinar series which has attracted attention from global communities, and sessions at ANZSNM and RANZCR

These milestones and achievements are a testament to the NIF imaging community – including our network of imaging experts. Over the coming years we look forward to continuing to integrate on a national scale, underpinning NIF’s strong partnerships to support strategic collaborations and maximise impact to benefit Australian industry and help keep Australians healthier. 

As this year draws to a close, I’d like to thank the whole NIF community. 

I extend my gratitude to the NIF Board and its Chair, Prof Margaret Harding. Very special thanks for Ms Sue Renkin and Dr Stephen Rose, who are completing their tenure on the NIF Board. I am grateful that they have contributed their unique expertise to help NIF.

NIF delivers its services through our 14 institutional Partners. Thank you to our national network of Partners, Node Directors, Fellows, and other Partner staff who support Australia’s most advanced imaging capabilities.  

I thank our NIF Central team for their dedication and hard work throughout 2023 to support our national network. 

Finally, thanks to our users who lead impactful projects, and our engaged research imaging participants who make an extremely valuable contribution to improving health outcomes for Australia. 

The NIF Central Office will shut down between 23 December – 2 January, and I wish you an enjoyable and safe holiday break. I look forward to working with you in 2024. 

Best wishes 

Prof Wojtek Goscinski
CEO

Revolutionary MRI technology unlocks solutions for foetal growth issues with minimal invasion

In a pioneering initiative, researchers aim to uncover signs of an often-missed condition in unborn babies (called ‘foetal growth restriction’) by adding magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to the suite of screening options for pregnant people.

NIF is working with University of South Australia researchers who collaborate internationally, combining advanced imaging techniques with research models to see intricate processes like foetal blood flow in real time.

Usually, MRI monitoring is only used to understand the most complex foetal health problems, but this is a disadvantage for babies with foetal growth restriction (FGR).

“FGR is generally diagnosed and monitored with ultrasound, but is often missed until the baby is born,” says UniSA Professor Janna Morrison.

These babies do not grow as expected because of a lack of oxygen and nutrients, and experience a greater risk of stillbirth, distress during labour, and an increased risk of problems in later life, such as poor cardiovascular health, impaired brain function, and obesity.

“We are conducting research to understand MRI’s value as a screening tool for FGR, as well as ensuring its safety and efficacy,” Professor Morrison says.

Instead of inducing early labour to avoid stillbirth – with its own potential complications of poor outcomes and time in a neonatal intensive care unit – the researchers are looking at what they can do before birth to ensure FGR babies have a better start in life.

Teams use NCRIS–funded MRI facilities to investigate blood flow

Professor Morrison leads the Early Origins of Adult Health Research Group (EOAHRG), working with NIF MRI facilities and the expertise of Research Radiographer NIF Fellow Georgia Williams, in a collaboration with the Hospital for Sick Children (Toronto), King’s College London and University College London.

The teams use MRI to measure the blood flow and the supply of oxygen in vessels in the foetus and the placenta – part of preclinical studies at the Large Animal Research and Imaging Facility (LARIF), within the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI).

The ability to access MRI capability in SA came with the future-focused NIF plan that supported construction of LARIF as part of SA Pathology, with NCRIS funding assistance, in 2008. LARIF became part of the Preclinical, Imaging and Research Laboratories (PIRL) and SAHMRI in 2012. LARIF is able to support an array of research, with a range of imaging infrastructure, including x-ray, a cath lab, computed tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET) and MRI.

With the support of an Australian Research Council Discovery Project and a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Project, EOAHRG accessed the MRI capacity with support from the Federal Government’s research infrastructure roadmap.

[Image: 3D reconstruction of heart ventricles from endocardial contours acquired using MRI: https://doi.org/10.1113/JP279054]

Imaging technology also reveals cardiac function, real-time medicine behaviour

Foetal imaging is challenging because of the challenges with syncing the scanning to the foetal heartbeat, the small size of foetal structures, their unpredictable movement and the discomfort of mothers during a scan, Professor Morrison explains.

But these scanning techniques have already given us a better understanding of how oxygen and nutrient-rich blood streams toward the brain during a baby’s development, say the team.

“We can follow the route for oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood from the umbilical vein, see it bypass the liver and flow through major vessels to the heart, brain and parts of the upper body,” says Professor Morrison.

“The imaging technology also has the potential to give insights in complex flow patterns in congenital heart disease, which can help us develop and test new treatments.”

At the moment, the teams have validated the imaging techniques for foetal oxygenation, blood flow and cardiac function. The real-time blood flow data that tracks medicines have also opened the door for testing FGR therapeutics and interventions.

Ultimately, EOAHRG aspires to give all babies the best start to life, so they can grow into healthy adults. Through the teams’ research with NIF’s capabilities at LARIF, they are on their way to achieving this ambitious goal.


New medical imaging facility to revolutionise research and patient care 

The Australian National Total Body PET Facility officially opens in Sydney today, delivering the first Total Body Positron Emission Tomography (TB-PET) scanner for Australia-wide open access research, as well as clinical use.

The facility will drive advancements in cancer studies, neurological disorders, cardiovascular disease and drug development, and reduce scanning time and radiation doses to transform patient care.

The $15 million facility is a collaborative venture between the University of Sydney, the National Imaging Facility (NIF) and Northern Sydney Local Health District, to benefit Australian patients, clinicians, researchers and industry partners.

Located at Royal North Shore Hospital, the Siemens Biograph Vision Quadra is a revolutionary leap forward in nuclear medical imaging. This cutting-edge device enables comprehensive whole-body imaging in a single scan, significantly reducing radiation exposure and cutting down scanning time from 20 minutes to as little as three, all while delivering higher-quality images.

The ability to scan all tissues and organs simultaneously offers unique insights into whole-body physiology and interactions between organs that no other clinical imaging technology can provide. It presents research opportunities across a wide range of medical applications, such as oncology, neuroscience, cardiology, infectious diseases, and drug discovery – including exploring complex human biology and the way multiple organs interact such as the brain-gut axis.

The facility is Australia’s most sensitive PET scanner dedicated to research, and will be a critical tool for clinical trials and industry collaborations. The ability to image the entire human body allows researchers to observe drug absorption, accumulation and elimination processes in all organs simultaneously.

Reduced radiation and scanning times expand PET imaging options for vulnerable groups such as children in impactful research and clinical studies. It also encourages the participation of healthy individuals in clinical trials and enables repeated scanning of patients to better understand disease progression and treatment effects, broadening medical research insights.

“The collaboration between the University of Sydney, the National Imaging Facility and Northern Sydney Local Health District demonstrates the power of partnerships in driving innovation,” said Professor Mark Scott, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Sydney.

“This facility shows what can be achieved when leading institutions join forces to advance healthcare and research capabilities. We are not only improving the health of patients today, but also utilising this technology to fast-track new discoveries for the future.”

One such study is examining how the molecule oxytocin impacts the brain and body when delivered to humans. Oxytocin is one of the most important natural chemicals in the brain that guides social behaviour. When administered, research shows it can improve social understanding and may have benefits to support people with schizophrenia and autism. However, it is a mystery about where oxytocin is absorbed and the circuits it impacts in the brain and body to cause its effects in humans.

Using the TB PET scanner, a team led by the University of Sydney’s Professor Adam Guastella, will see in real-time the brain and body circuits impacted by oxytocin after its delivery intranasally or by intravenous injection. This has the potential to change fundamental knowledge of the biology of human social behaviour and could lead to a range of new therapies.

The new facility forms part of Sydney Imaging, the University of Sydney’s Core Research Facility for biomedical imaging. As a nationally significant research platform, it is also a flagship of the National Imaging Facility (NIF), through the Australian Government Department of Education’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS).

Governing Board Chair of the National Imaging Facility, Professor Margaret Harding, said the NIF’s investment of $8m in the Australian National Total Body PET Facility was its largest to date, and represented Australia’s largest single investment in molecular imaging, underpinning research that is of high priority in reducing Australia’s burden of disease.

“The facility is a unique national asset which will revolutionise Australia’s capacity to attract and support research and industry undertaking clinical trials for the development of new pharmaceuticals and medical products to improve health outcomes for Australia,” Professor Harding said.

The Australian National Total Body PET Facility will operate under an equal time-share arrangement between clinical use and research, ensuring five day per week open access for all researchers throughout Australia.

Speaking to patient benefits, Chief Executive of the Northern Sydney Local Health District, Adjunct Professor Anthony Schembri, said: “Royal North Shore Hospital and Northern Sydney Local Health District have a proud history of delivering world-class imaging and care to improve patient outcomes.

“We are extremely honoured to be hosting this Australian-first where patients can receive world class care, and researchers can use the scanner for clinical research which will translate into improving patient care in the future.”

The University’s contribution to the new facility is underpinned by a bequest made by William Chapman who left the majority of his estate as a gift dedicated to cancer research at the University of Sydney. His legacy is set to have an enormous impact on cancer research and on the survival and quality of life of patients.

The University of Sydney’s Professor Emma Johnston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), said: “The combined clinical and research arrangements for this amazing medical imaging technology and its location in a bustling hub of activity at Royal North Shore Hospital will foster collaboration among researchers, healthcare providers, policymakers, and industry leaders to fast-track innovation in research translation.”

For more information about the Australian National Total Body PET Facility, including capabilities and bookings for research use visit the Sydney Imaging website.


Media enquiries: Michelle Blowes, Media & PR Adviser (Medicine and Health) University of Sydney M: 0478 303 173 | E: michelle.blowes@sydney.edu.au

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