Brain Centre Imaging Facility

First published: 19/11/2013

Updated at: 06/12/2013 at 9:53 am

Melbourne Brain Centre Imaging Facility (Parkville) is at the cutting edge of world research and is a centre of excellence with many world-leading firsts.

Rob Williams, its chief research technologist  is proud of the team approach to any research question as the Centre accommodates physicists, chemists and biologists under the one roof.

“The Imaging Facility houses the only human combined PET (Positron Emission Tomography) / CT (Computed Tomography) centre in the country which is purely dedicated to research,” Rob said.

“Scientists here meet weekly to discuss ways of improving research to be quicker and more cost effective and smarter and there is a strong atmosphere of cross-fertilisation of ideas.

“We have a ‘can do’ attitude to research and we can involve researchers in the processes  –   assisting with ethics applications, radiation support, radioactive materials supply and  image analysis. We don’t just provide the scans. Our job is to help in the research and find an answer.”

At the moment the Melbourne Brain Centre Imaging Facility (Parkville) is imaging the lymphatic system and in other studies has found new blood vessels previously undiscovered. One application of this research is in helping plastic surgeons who carry out face transplants.

But the main focus of research at the Brain Centre is on neurological disorders. The Imaging partners have won the De Lyon award for PET CT imaging of Alzheimer’s research for two years in a row.

The PET CT scanner set up will soon be joined by a new 7 Tesla whole body Siemens MRI research system that will be operational in 2014.

“Using it, we’ll be able to measure micro haemorrhages which may trigger Tau and amyloid to accumulate in the same location. PET allows us to actually see where the chemical changes occur.”

Professor Chris Rowe and Laureate Professor Colin Masters, whose pioneering research interests lie in the role of amyloid in, and early detection of, Alzheimer’s disease, both use this facility for their research.

The imaging centres efforts have helped to develop a safe and accurate method for detecting the onset of Alzheimer’s decades prior to diagnosis.  Rob’s own ‘pet’ project is development of a volunteer website for brain research.  Brainpet.org has a bank of more than 1000 people who have enrolled as volunteers for imaging research.

Although the Brain Centre’s focus is on human brain imaging and human brain disease, the normal function of the human brain is also revealed using this technology.

Using high-end CT and PET scans with radioactive tracers, the facility can track any chemical process in the body,” Rob said. “We can track almost any chemical process in cells if requested.”

PET scans also provide valuable imaging for geological samples, and can help in petroleum research by measuring cracks in sandstone for oil and gas discovery. They can also image fossils inside rocks without having to break rocks apart.

Other research planned at the Melbourne Brain Centre Imaging Facility (Parkville) involves imaging biological samples from rats, frogs and fish and birds.

The collaborative research centre is supported by The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Health and Austin Health and is funded through Victorian Bio-medical Imaging Capability, National Imaging Facility and the Victorian Government.

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