Shifting the paradigm of spinal cord quantitative MRI

Funding Details
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Grant type: Foundation Grant
  • Years: 2015/16 to 2019/20
  • Total Funding: $547,788
Keywords
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Project Summary

Pathologies of the spinal cord (SC) affect more than 200,000 Canadians and can induce severe motor, sensory and autonomic functional disability depending on the exact localisation of the lesion. Novel biomarkers based on quantitative magnetic resonance imaging (qMRI) have shown great potential for characterizing axonal damage, which is currently not detectable with conventional MRI. However, these biomarkers are still under development and their clinical use requires further validation. Moreover, these techniques were originally developed for the brain and cannot readily be translated to the SC given the difficulties related to data acquisition and processing. The overarching goal of this research program is to create a new paradigm for SC pathology evaluation based on qMRI biomarkers to bring relevant biomarkers closer to the patient. To achieve this goal, the following research directions are proposed: (Axis 1) Develop and validate biomarkers of axon microstructure; (Axis 2) Translate these biomarkers to clinical setup by developing innovative hardware and software solutions and by standardizing procedures; (Axis 3) Apply these techniques in patients with SC injury and multiple sclerosis, in collaboration with partners who are developing therapeutic strategies.Potential impactInnovation and standardization of SC imaging methods will equip researchers and clinicians with the tools necessary to understand SC diseases and maximize their treatment. Specific benefits cover: •Knowledge, via (i) the development of novel methods for histology, MRI hardware and image processing, (ii) their dissemination through the training of personnel in hospital and research institutions and (iii) the translation of myelin thickness mapping to the brain. •Health, via (i) a more precise assessment of SC damage (e.g., ventral vs. unilateral lesion) and the possibility to relate demyelination with its clinical symptoms, allowing the clinician to choose the best therapy (e.g., physiotherapy vs. surgery) and (ii) the possibility to test new drugs in clinical trials by taking advantage of the standardization of procedures. •Economy, via the development of innovative hardware (shim coil) and the translation of standardized methods to pharmaceutical consortia.Expertise in imaging axon microstructure in SC diseasesMy group is one of the very few worldwide with expertise in SC imaging, as assessed by the number of articles, book chapters, and organized workshops. With the network of collaborations proposed here, we extend this expertise with advanced optical imaging (Dr. Cote), myelin imaging (Dr. Stikov) and SC diseases (Drs. Arnold and Nadeau). We believe this combination of multidisciplinary and high-quality expertise will enable us to go beyond feasibility and reach excellence, with the potential to generate strong knowledge and to attract world experts.TrainingMy goal is to provide students with tools to help them excel in academia and the health-related business sector. With the explosion of imaging centers in Canada and elsewhere, personnel qualified in MRI physics and neuroimaging software are more and more in demand. Recently, Dr. Stikov and I created a joint laboratory, yielding an effective environment for training, for extending our network of collaborators and for federating resources. Having the critical mass of people working in the same field will catalyze scientific exchanges, trigger innovation and better prepare trainees for their future career.