Moving scenes

Dr David Lloyd is a Clinical Research Fellow at King’s College London and working as part of the iFIND project. The overall aim of the intelligent Fetal Imaging and Diagnosis project is to combine innovative technologies into a clinical ultrasound system that will lead to a radical change in the way fetal screening is performed.


One of the most important goals of the iFIND project is to build an “atlas” of the fetus: a comprehensive map of fetal anatomy at around 20 weeks gestation (when routine antenatal scans are performed). This means getting the best quality images that we can, from as many women as we can – but as I’m learning, taking pictures of a 20 week fetus while they’re still in the womb really isn’t that easy.

For one thing, they’re very (very) small. The fetal heart, for example, with all of its tiny chambers and valves, is only about 15mm long: less than the size of penny. Ultrasound technology – used in all routine antenatal scans in the UK – is actually fairly good at visualising these tiny structures. It uses very high frequency sound waves which are reflected back (“echo”) from the structures inside the body to produce an image. In fetal ultrasound, the images produced can be excellent; but unfortunately that’s not true for every patient. Ultrasound has to be able to “see” through the body to the parts of the baby we want to image, and that isn’t always easy. It will depend on the age of the baby, how they are lying in the womb, the size of the mother, and many other factors.

MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to produce images, isn’t so limited. It can see the structures inside the body regardless of whether there’s bone, muscle or fat in the way; and in some cases it can give us even more detailed images than ultrasound. Importantly, it is also one of the few imaging techniques that is safe to use in pregnancy. The problem? MRI isn’t great with small, moving targets – like we see in the fetus.

So that’s why we ask our iFIND volunteers to have both an ultrasound and an MRI scan. By combining the strengths of these two technologies, we hope to get the best of both worlds to produce the most accurate fetal atlas we can.

Of course though, even that isn’t quite so simple. Fetal movements – like twisting, rolling, stretching and kicking – are a particularly tricky problem, even when we use both technologies together .

Watch this MRI clip from one of our volunteers. Unfortunately there’s not much you can do when your patient decides to start breakdancing half way through a scan! At least, you’d think there wasn’t… but amazingly even that may not be an insurmountable problem. In the last few months I’ve been involved with some of the work of Bernhard Kainz and his colleagues, who have devised clever algorithms to automatically correct for small fetal movements during MRI and produce usable images.

These techniques show a huge amount of potential, and are an example of how the iFIND project is helping to generate exciting new technologies on its way to the ultimate goal: to improve the way we see developing babies in the womb.

Read previous posts about the iFIND project written by David Lloyd.

Boosting radiochemistry around Europe

Carlotta_profileCarlotta Taddei is a 2nd year PhD student in the Division of Imaging Sciences & Biomedical Engineering. Her research is about the development of radiopharmaceuticals and radiochemicals for medical diagnostics and research.  Here she talks about her involvement in an international collaboration and her secondment in Amsterdam.

I am part of a project called RADIOMI which is supported by the Marie-Curie Action Innovative Training Networks and has the goal to provide training to produce new talent and innovation in radiochemistry for molecular imaging. The emphasis of this network is focused on training scientists to develop and carry-out innovative radiolabeling with short half-life positron emitting isotopes such as Fluorine-18, Carbon-11 and Nitrogen-13. These novel and improved methodologies will be trialed in the synthesis of known and new radiotracers, such as small molecules, peptides and libraries of biologically active labelled compounds.

RADIOMI logoThe project combines the expertise of leading scientists in radiochemistry around Europe – the University of Oxford, King’s College London, University of Turku, VU University Medical Center Amsterdam, University Claude Bernard Lyon, Medical & Health Science Center Debrecen, CIC BiomaGUNE San Sebastian, Advanced Accelerator Applications and several other associate partners, such as GE Healthcare, Advion, Synthra GmbH and BV Cyclotron VU.

Currently I am part of a group of 15 fellows, 13 Early Stage Researchers and 2 Experienced Researchers. We gather together with our supervisors, advisory board and associate partners every 6 months. During these international meetings we present our individual reports and receive valuable feedback on the ongoing research and suggestions for our future work. So far, there have already been 3 RADIOMI Schools and International meetings, with additional courses at the partner universities. Next meeting will be in November 2015 at CIC BiomaGUNE San Sebastian in Spain with the distinguished international Molecular Imaging Workshop 2015.

Aleksandra Pekosak (ESR at VUmc), Ulrike Filp (ESR at VUmc) Anna Kirjavainen (ER at KCL) and Carlotta Taddei (ESR at KCL) at St Thomas' Hospital.
Aleksandra Pekosak (ESR at VUmc), Ulrike Filp (ESR at VUmc) Anna Kirjavainen (ER at KCL) and Carlotta Taddei (ESR at KCL) at St Thomas’ Hospital.

As part of the RADIOMI project, the ESR fellows have to carry out research projects in collaboration with the other RADIOMI partner universities, so-called secondments. Our department hosted Aleksandra Pekosak and Ulrike Filp, two ESR RADIOMI fellows from VUmc Amsterdam, during June 2015. We carried out a small research project on carbon-11 chemistry related to our PhD topic. This work continued at VUmc during my secondment period there in August 2015.

Carlotta_labBefore I arrived in Amsterdam, I was looking forward to carrying out radiochemistry work in a different institution to gain more skills in this field. Personally I think it was a very interesting and fruitful experience. Planning and performing radiochemistry work in a different radiochemistry centre having different rules was good training for me. Luckily we managed to obtain some good preliminary results on our research topics in order to continue our work at our corresponding institutions and strengthen the collaboration between the two partner universities.

I really enjoyed this secondment because it gave me a better understanding of team-work and time-management which can be really useful skills in my research field. In the future I hope to have similar work experience to this and grow my international collaborations so that my research can have an impact in this fascinating field.

Vienna – a meeting place of young minds

Dr Samantha Terry, a post doctoral researcher in the Department of Imaging Chemistry & Biology recounts her experience of attending a conference in Vienna.

Sam Terry
Sam Terry

I was recently invited to submit an abstract to go for an all-expenses paid trip to Vienna as part of the Young Investigator’s Meeting of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine (EANM). I am not one to turn down any offer to travel the world for free, especially not if I get to combine it with meeting other people my age who also work as scientists in the field of nuclear medicine. I was pleased to find my abstract on “Monitoring therapy response with radionuclide imaging” was accepted and was even more pleased to find out that I am still considered young at the age of 30!

So, thanks to the funding provided by the EANM and the British Nuclear Medicine Society, I got to go to Vienna! I had only ever been once before and that was in the wintertime when the weather was so bad all I could manage was to test various hot chocolate establishments and bakeries for Sachertorte. Yum… Sachertorte…

Hill Arches sculpture
Hill Arches sculpture

During this trip however, the weather was glorious with on average a temperature of 35 degree Celsius. I even managed to find the famous Henry Moore sculpture called ‘Hill Arches’ in front of the Karlskirche, which last time took me two hours to find and even then it was covered in a box with an image of the sculpture!

Back to the meeting; what a great meeting this was. The age range of the 17 participants (ignoring the excellent organisers and chairs Marion de Jong from Erasmus University Medical Center and Tony Gee from King’s College London) was 28-32. Here we all are (I have circled myself but it’s not my best picture!)

17 participants, age range 28-32, 9 countries

The talks were all part of the greater topic “new tracers from bench to bedside” and participants were not only from different disciplines, namely clinicians, physicists, biologists, technologists, and (radio)-chemists, but also from a range of countries, including the UK, Portugal, Belgium, South Korea, Spain, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the Netherlands.

The organisers as well as the Young EANM Committee member Nevena Ristevska created a great set of talks; the only downside was the rather sweltering room in which the talks were held. It didn’t help that the air conditioning unit was initially set at full blast to warm the room! The topics ranged from using radionuclides for imaging to therapy, in phantom models, in vitro, in vivo to clinical work. The prize for best presentation went to Ingrid Bakker, currently a PhD student from Erasmus UMC, the Netherlands who showed that gastrin-releasing peptide (GRP) analogues, when radiolabeled with an isotope called Gallium-68, could aid the diagnosis of patients with prostate cancer by PET/CT imaging by targeting the GRP receptors.

The meeting was a fabulous opportunity for us all to talk about our work and research interests and get feedback and ideas. Not only that but we were able to talk about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ stuff, such as issues with supply, why this generator is a pain and radiolabeling efficiencies are not always 95% or more.

I would recommend this meeting to every young scientist doing science even remotely related to nuclear medicine. Where else would you be able to create your own network of colleagues and friends who are dotted around the world and yet have similar interests, travelled to places you have/would like to go to and have similar worries and obstacles?

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