King’s Staff International Exchange Programme

Kavitha is the Preclinical Imaging Facilities Manager for the School of Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences.

I found out about King’s Staff International Exchange Programme at a Professional Services Staff Mentoring Scheme lunch mixer in 2016, whilst chatting to a fellow attendee. I had always hoped to be able to visit the company InviCRO LLM (Boston, USA) which developed one of the software packages we use within our School for preclinical image analysis. I had come to know various members of the InviCRO team over the past 8 years following their inception and through our evolving relationship as we used their software ‘Vivoquant’. I had also been interested in the research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh as their interests, choices of radio-isotopes and disease targets for imaging closely aligned with our own.
At the end of May 2017, one month after submission of my application, I found out that I was one of the fortunate to be selected by King’s Worldwide. At this point I had already made contact with both UMPC Pittsburgh and InviCRO and had identified hosts who were willing to welcome me to their respective institutions. I decided to travel to the US in September 2017 and promptly booked on an Icelandic airline called ‘Wow airlines’! In spite of its exuberant name, purple airplanes and purple-dressed cabin crew, the flight were straight-forward from London to Pittsburgh via Reykjavik…sadly Iceland was having a heatwave (8 °C) and so there was no snow to be seen from the aircraft!

Pics for blog - Kavitha- 041017

Pittsburgh was a lovely green city filled with tall conifers, green spaces and enjoying unseasonable temperatures of 27 °C. During my two days there, I visited UMPC Presbyterian hospital and had a tour of their PET centre, Siemans cyclotron, radiochemistry labs, and multiple scanners. I had the pleasure of meeting various personnel ranging from Dr Scott Mason, Dr Jonathan Carney, and Dr Brian Lopresti, who were able to describe to me the differences in regulatory structures in the USA for preclinical and radiation work and the workflow from PET isotope production to patient administration. During my visit a new Mediso PET/CT scanner was being acceptance tested and I got to see how this scanner design differed from ours at King’s which was exciting. I also got to meet Prof Carolyn Anderson, Dr Barry Edwards and their teams at UPMC Hillman Cancer Centre and toured their facilities and shared our common practices and differences. They had an interest in acquiring the Vivoquant software which we use at King’s and I was able to very quickly demonstrate to them some of its functionalities using their trial version. Happily I was going to visit InviCRO in Boston and so was able to ensure they got introduced to the correct people at Invicro who could help them evaluate the software.
Moving on from sunny Pittsburgh to Boston was a little difficult. Stormy weather delayed us taking off from Pittsburgh as there was poor visibility for landing in Boston and we arrived well past midnight. The following day, I was due to attend the Invicro User meeting and by some lucky coincidence I had booked to stay directly opposite the meeting venue! I was warmly welcomed by various members of the Invicro team and got to put faces to the names of colleagues with whom I’d had emailed and spoken to via telecon over the years. My presentation was well received and whilst it was a little daunting to have my presentation broadcast live to other Vivoquant users around the world, it was great to be able to reach out to fellow scientists via technology. I met with other speakers and attendees from around the US and straight away exchanged thoughts, ideas and contact details. I had dinner my hosts Ciara Finucane, Whitney Woodson and visitors from Invicro London (previously Immanova – acquisition officially announced a few days prior to my visit). I had a pleasant evening with amiable company and an invitation to visit Invicro London upon my return to the UK. On my final day in Boston, I spent time at Invicro headquarters and visited their labs, saw their novel instruments, chatted with particular specialists regarding the software, certain hardware equipment which we at King’s might be interested in using and the possibility of Invicro hosting a user meeting in the UK, now that they had a strong presence in London. All in all, I was well taken care of by all my hosts and felt I had something to offer whilst learning about the different scientific challenges, laboratory setups, research environments and workflows in the US.
I would recommend the King’s Staff International Exchange Programme to all my colleagues here at King’s as this has been a fruitful and rewarding experience. I have returned to the School of Biomedical Engineering and Imaging Sciences feeling very fortunate that I work in such a vibrant and exciting environment and feel renewed in my enthusiasm of our multidisciplinary, problem-solving and forward thinking ethos!


iFind Blog No. 5: A Little Reflection

David Lloyd_crop

Last Friday, our 265th iFind volunteer arrived for her ultrasound with her partner and their chirpy two-year old daughter in tow. Once the scan started the little girl sat quietly with her father, slightly disinterested, even when he pointed out the face of her soon-to-be baby sister on the ultrasound screen. It wasn’t until we pulled open the blinds at the end of the scan, revealing the River Thames glistening between Westminster Palace and London Eye, that her apathy finally subsided and she bounced up and down with glee.

Why am I telling you this? So two-year olds don’t care much for ultrasound scans… got it. Well, there’s a little more to this story. You see, that little girl had been in this room before – and she definitely didn’t have the same response when the blinds went up the last time. Her mother (iFind participant number two hundred and sixty-five) was actually volunteering for iFind for the second time, having previously been iFind participant number… five. Yup, that excitable little two-year old had once been the unborn face we glimpsed on the ultrasound machine, right back at the very beginning of our project.

ifind blog pic
Reflecting on the iFind project (pun by David, not me – Ed)

Cool right? We thought so too. In fact, it was a pretty fascinating reminder of how much time has passed since we started over three years ago, and a good opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come since then (which, it turns out, is a long way). But more on that later. Firstly, a reminder of where we’re going: we are developing a fully integrated system of robotics, ultrasound, and computing that can automatically acquire and analyse the diagnostic imaging needed to detect fetal abnormalities. Yes, it’s ambitious; and no, we’re not (quite) there yet. But working with iFind is a bit like a mission to the moon: it will be exciting when we get there, but it’s just as exciting watching the incredible new technologies we are developing along the way.

OK then, what have we achieved? Well, for a start, we have built on the routine screening ultrasounds from thousands of our iFind 1 volunteers to help inform this incredible automatic image detection software, designed by my colleagues Christian Baumgartner and Bernard Kainz using clever machine learning algorithms. My clinical colleagues Caroline Knight, Jackie Matthew and Tara Fletcher are already investigating the ways in which this might be useful to the teams performing routine antenatal screening scans, and by combining this software with the detailed tracking data from our iFind 2 volunteers – as demonstrated in this video from my colleagues Nicolas Toussaint and Alberto Gomez – we are starting to develop the backbone of the software that will guide the robotic elements of the final system (which, as my colleagues James Housden, Yohan Noh, Shuangyi Wang and Davi Singh will tell you, is amazing… but also top secret – for now. Sorry).

From the MRI side of things, iFind volunteer 265 means we’re now over half way to our target of 500 complete fetal MRI scans, providing detailed imaging of the fetus to develop our final “atlas” of normal fetal development, being generated by Tong Zhang. We have seen some incredible yoga moves, some (technically flawless) moonwalking… and some babies just asking us to keep the noise down up there. In the last few months Jackie also completed her research looking at fetal weight, and we can now routinely report the fetal volume and weight in some of our MRI scans. In the area I am interested in – the fetal heart – Josh van Amerom has published these excitingly detailed video loops of the fetal cardiac motion, with more developments in the pipeline. And finally, by using MRI with motion correction techniques, my own research is already providing useful diagnostic information for real patients at St Thomas’ hospital, helping our clinical colleagues to provide the highest standards of care.

So there you have it. 265 patients in and we’ve come a long, long way. It’s thrilling to think where we might be in another three years. When I was told that I may have scanned that little girl before she was born, I joked, “Ah! I thought I recognised her”. I didn’t, of course. But the way things are going with iFind, one day… who knows?

Imperial Festival 2017

By Samuel Vennin

This post originally appeared on the Medical Imaging CDT website.

Last week-end, many students from the CDT and staff from the division animated a stall at the Imperial Festival to present some of our work in medical imaging. The Festival is an annual event aiming to showcasing research and engage a large audience with science. From Energy and Environment to Robots, there was a wide spectrum of fields represented, each with funny animations and thought-provoking experiences to interact with the audience. I have attended the Festival as a spectator ever since I have been in London so it was great fun living it from the other side, and being the one trying to convey basic ideas about the science we carry in the CDT while making it entertaining and lively.

Our stall was located in the Health and Body Zone and we presented our research next to teams talking about detection of particles in the air that we breathe or measurement of the strength of the arm. We based our interactions on many easy experiments and materials covering the main imaging modalities (MRI, Ultrasound, PET) so that people can better understand how we obtain pictures of the bodies or why we use contrast agents.

For example, we explained the difference in the quality of images obtained with a MRI and a PET scanner and in which situations one would be favoured over the other. This served as an introduction to contrast agents whose design and conception was also explained by a video “starring” one of the CDT supervisors, Dr Phil Miller, which you can see below.

A little game helped to explain the use of those contrast agents. Four vials were filled with an invisible liquid and in one was added a colorant that would only turn blue when illuminated by a specific light. Using a UV-flashlight, people had to identify the vial containing this colorant.Another station involved spectators guessing which body part of a foetus on an echo scan was highlighted. We could then introduce the iFind project and the concept of atlases common to other imaging techniques.

Finally we carried out a survey for our own knowledge, and as a conversation starter. We wanted to know whether people would agree that their anonymised scans be shared with private companies for research purposes. People had to place a ping-pong ball in a “Yes” or “No” box. At the end of the day, the Yes box was more than full (some people had started to use tally marks to make their vote count) with 120 balls while the No one only contained 5 balls. This seems to indicate that people have no problem helping science at the condition that their identity remain unknown, regardless of if the research is public or privately funded. Obviously though, the audience attending Imperial Festival might bemuch more biased than the general population.

I was surprised overall of how quickly people could pick up complex ideas like the concept of contrast agents and the differences between an MRI and a PET scan. Kids were very insightful and we couldn’t get away with just saying “we put the body in the scanner and we obtain those beautiful pictures”. We had to explain the signals that we get from the scanner and where they come from. As a kid told me, “it is actually much more complicated than taking a picture with my camera”. Adults could relate more to the experience of being in a scanner and were mostly keen to know more about the operating details like why is an MRI scanner so noisy or why is there no one else in the scanning room other than the patient during a scan. Both the kids and adults, really liked the game on the body parts of foetuses as they found it enjoyable and playful. Some children were happy that they don’t look like a 20-week old foetus anymore.

The whole event lasted 6 hours each day and we were all both sore and voiceless at the end of it. Having to force your voice in a hall filled with hundreds of people was quite exhausting but it was worth it as visitors seemed really interested. Maybe we sparked vocations in some children? It was also interesting because we couldn’t have a prepared speech since we always had quickly questions that forced us to go off-script. It kept us on our toes the whole time but was also mentally demanding. Finally, I loved the fact that, for once, I felt knowledgeable and was able to answer the questions asked. We are training to become experts in our field and unknown is a part of our daily life. Transmitting a knowledge, rather than acquiring it or creating it, is a different game as maybe the phenomenon we describe are basic and simple, but we don’t have the help of the jargon words we would normally use. We had to think about our research in a different way. I love those opportunities to convey research in basic and simple terms to a diverse audience and it was great fun to engage with all those people. I would love to do it again.




*Staff from the CDT included: Matt Allinson, Josephine Bourner, Christopher Bowles, Cen Chen, Marta Dazzi, Rhiannon Evans,  Jorge Mariscal Harana, Sophie Morse, Rob Robinson, Elisa Roccia and Samuel Vennin,