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.
Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that exploits the movement of water molecules to reveal microscopic details about tissue architecture. DTI is commonly used in brain imaging studies, used to track neural tracts through the brain. The technique is also ideal for investigating the 3D architecture of muscles, as DTI can be used to obtain detailed, quantitative measurements of the anatomy of complex skeletal muscles in living humans. Prof Robert Herbert’s group at NeuRA utilised the 3T MRI located in the UNSW Node of NIF to take a first look at the compartmentalised soleus muscle to provide reference values for further modelling.
The human soleus muscle is particularly difficult to study using conventional techniques, such as ultrasound, due to the depth of the anterior and proximal compartments and difficulty in accurate orientation. Hence, DTI is an ideal method to quantify the macroscopic arrangement of muscle fibres of the soleus and help develop comprehensive, quantitative atlases of human muscle architecture.
Prof Herbert’s team have recently used the method to investigate the leg muscles of children with cerebral palsy. Measurements of the medial gastrocnemius muscles were obtained from structural MRI and DTI scans of 20 children with unilateral spastic CP and 20 typically developing children. The study showed that children with unilateral spastic cerebral palsy had reduced range and muscle volume in the calf on the more affected side compared to typically developing children.
The calf plays a vital role in standing and walking, and the differences detected here provide insight into the pathophysiology of muscle contractures and functional impairments in children with cerebral palsy. This knowledge is essential for orthopaedic surgeons and physiotherapists supporting affected children in learning to walk independently.
For further information, please contact NIF Fellow Dr Michael Green.
This story was contributed by NeuRA.
During 2017 the National Imaging Facility (NIF) nodes at the University of Western Australia (UWA), University of Queensland (UQ), University of New South Wales (UNSW) and Monash University collaborated on a national project to enhance the quality, durability and reliability of data generated by NIF through the Trusted Data Repository project.
● Quality pertains to a NIF user’s expectation that an animal, plant or material can be scanned and from that data reliable outcomes/characterisations can be obtained (e.g. signal, volume, morphology) over time and across NIF sites.
● Durability refers to guaranteed long-term availability of the data.
● Reliability means that the data is useful for future researchers, i.e. stored in one or more open data formats and with sufficient evidential metadata.
The Project, Delivering durable, reliable, high-quality image data, was jointly funded by the Australian National Data Service (ANDS) and Research Data Services (RDS). It was motivated both by NIF’s desire to enhance the quality of the data associated with the use of its facilities, and the desire of ANDS/RDS to facilitate the establishment of Trusted Data Repositories that enable access to data for at least 10 years and includes metadata that documents both the quality of the data and its provenance.
A trusted data repository service is essential for sharing data and ensures that project data created and used by researchers is “managed, curated, and archived in such a way to preserve the initial investment in collecting them” and that the data “remain useful and meaningful into the future” (https://www.coretrustseal.org).
The scope of the Project was limited to MRI data with the understanding that the developed requirements and trusted data repository services could be adapted to, or serve as a basis for other instruments/modalities.
The key outcomes from the Project include:
- The NIF agreed process for acquiring trusted data (NAP) – Lists the requirements that must be satisfied to obtain high-quality data, i.e. NIF-certified data, suitable for ingestion in a NIF trusted data repository service. They cover provisioning of a unique instrument identifier, instrument registration with Research Data Australia (https://researchdata.ands.org.au), quality control (QC), quality assurance measures, requisite metadata (including cross-reference to the QC data), the process by which data is moved from the instrument to the digital repository service and the format(s) of the data.
- The NIF requirements for a trusted data repository service – Provides a platform-agnostic checklist of requirements that a basic NIF trusted data repository service should satisfy, including: identification of data by a unique Project identifier, ingestion of data from NIF-compliant instruments, authentication via the Australian Access Federation (https://aaf.edu.au), interoperability and easy deployment across NIF nodes.
- Implementations of trusted data repository services for two exemplars:
- Preclinical MRI data (with mouse brain data as an example) acquired across three NIF nodes—UNSW, UQ and UWA—using a Bruker BioSpec 9.4T MRI. The services have been implemented using the open source MyTardis/ImageTrove (https://www.mytardis.org) platform.
- Clinical ataxia MRI data acquired using a Siemens Skyra 3T MRI scanner in support of a Monash-proposed International Ataxia Imaging Repository (IAIR). The service has been Implemented using the open source XNAT (https://www.xnat.org) platform.
Software developed to support the implementation of the repository services includes: Docker (https://www.docker.com) Compose scripts to permit easy deployment at differents sites, client-side scripts for uploading NIF-certified data to ImageTrove/MyTardis and an XNAT plugin for uploading non-DICOM files.
- Assessments of the resulting trusted data repository services against a relevant international metric, the CoreTrustSeal (https://www.coretrustseal.org) Core Trustworthy Data Repositories Requirements.
For NIF users and the broader imaging research community the benefits and impact of this Project include:
- Reliable and durable access to data
- Improved reliability of research outputs and the provenance associated with it
- Making NIF data more FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable – https://www.ands.org.au/working-with-data/the-fair-data-principles)
- Easier linkages between publications and data
- Stronger research partnerships
For research institutions they include:
- Enhanced reputation management
- A means by which to comply with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research
- Enhanced ability to engage in multi-centre imaging research projects
For NIF they include
- Improved data quality
- Improved international reputation
- The ability to run multi-centre trials
The transition plan post-funding includes: maintenance of existing services for 10 years; the integration of additional instruments; creation of a project web portal; planned new national and international service deployments; refinements and improvements; and CoreTrustSeal certification.
Project documents have been archived in the NIF Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system (accessible by NIF staff). Project software is hosted on GitHub and is freely available for download here: https://github.com/NIF-au/TDR. For further information please contact either the national Project Manager or NIF.
Project Manager and UWA lead: Andrew Mehnert (NIF Informatics Fellow, Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis).
NIF lead – Graham Galloway (Chief Executive Officer, NIF)
UQ lead – Andrew Janke (NIF Informatics Fellow, Centre for Advanced Imaging)
UNSW lead – Marco Gruwel (Senior Research Associate, Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre)
Monash lead – Wojtek Goscinski (Associate Director, Monash eResearch Centre)
Imaging equipment such as MRI, PET and CT scanners are capable of producing vast amounts of valuable research data. In order to maximise research outcomes, data must be stored securely, have its quality verified, and should be accessible to the wider research community.
Informatics fellows from around Australia have combined their expertise to build a series of Trusted Data Repositories (TDR’s) to provide researchers with a secure location to store, share and curate their data.
This national project, Delivering durable, reliable, high-quality image data, jointly funded by the Australian National Data Service (ANDS) and Research Data Services (RDS), guarantees the storage of data for at least 10 years for use in future research.
Led by the National Imaging Facility (NIF), the project brought together researchers and informatics specialists from UQ’s Centre for Advanced Imaging (CAI), Monash Biomedical Imaging (MBI), Monash eResearch Centre, the University of Western Australia, RCC (Research Computing Centre, UQ) and the University of NSW. Together, the team has established best practices for TDR’s to store imaging data nationally, through the NIF network.
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