PhD – Brain MRE in preclinical Alzheimer’s disease

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Website cardiffuni Cardiff University

Closing date: 32st March


Late-onset Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease which causes a slow decline in memory, thinking, and reasoning abilities. Despite decades of research, there is still much to learn about what changes occur in the brain that ultimately lead to dementia symptoms.

Whereas conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allows us to see brain anatomy, magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) is an imaging technique that creates an image where the voxel value represents the mechanical properties (i.e., stiffness) of tissue. Essentially, MRE allows us to non-invasively ‘feel’ inside the living body – similar to manual palpation used by doctors to identify diseased tissue.

MRE is a particularly sensitive to disease processes and is used in clinical settings to safely and non-invasively diagnose the severity of liver disease. More recently, MRE has been applied to the brain and offers a unique perspective on brain health.

This PhD studentship will be the first time MRE has been applied to study the mechanical properties of the brain in people at genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The aim of the project is to examine whether MRE can (i) detect subtle tissue changes that represent the earliest stage of disease, and (ii) to examine whether changes in tissue mechanics play a causal role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease pathophysiology (i.e., through the process of mechanotransduction).

It is anticipated that the PhD will combine this cutting-edge technology with other methods, including diffusion-weighted MR spectroscopy. There will be ample scope for the PhD student to develop novel hypotheses to deepen understanding of neurological changes that occur in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

The main tasks of the candidate will be to:

  • Participate in the acquisition and processing of neuroimaging data collected as part of the study (structural MRI, diffusion MRI, diffusion MR spectroscopy, and MRE).
  • Apply advanced statistical methods on the acquired data.
  • Report the results in the form of scientific manuscripts and conference presentations.
  • Have regular communication with external collaborators (Prof Curtis Johnson, University of Delaware, USA and Dr. Matt McGarry at the Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, USA).
  • Develop the MRE reconstruction method for increasing accuracy and sensitivity of the MRE images (assistance provided).
  • Assist with participant recruitment and data management.

The student will be part of the School of Psychology and Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC), a pioneer in brain imaging research. CUBRIC houses >200 researchers across Schools and Colleges, making it a vibrant multidisciplinary research community. Moreover, the centre hosts state-of-the-art neuroimaging equipment that the student will benefit from, including the Connectom scanner with ultra-strong gradients. The student will also benefit from close collaboration with CUBRIC’s microstructural imaging team:

The student will work under the lead supervision of Dr. Lucy Hiscox (School of Psychology, Cardiff University) but is an exciting opportunity to also work with a co-supervisory team that are multidisciplinary experts in physics and medical imaging (Dr. Daniel Gallichan, School of Engineering, Cardiff University) and dementia epidemiology (Associate Professor Emma Anderson, Division of Psychiatry, UCL).

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