The internationally recognised Macquarie Medical Imaging is involved in close on 100 research projects, all aimed at improving patient care through improved imaging

Macquarie Medical Imaging (MMI) is becoming well known for its imaging services. Located within Macquarie University Hospital, it plays a crucial role in the Hospital’s streamlined services for patients.

MMI has built its excellent service by recruiting highly specialised radiologists, nuclear medicine and magnetic resonance imaging specialists, and by investing in some of the most advanced medical imaging technologies available in the world.

Behind MMI’s patient service sits a significant program of research. Most radiologists at MMI have post-qualification fellowships and are active researchers working in partnership with Macquarie University Hospital and a host of national and international institutions.

The number of research projects in which MMI is involved is rapidly expanding. Despite a range of interests, all share one goal: to enhance the diagnostic function of medical imaging that plays a key role in patient care.

In partnership with Macquarie University Hospital

“We are unique in having a very extensive ‘in-house’ research program, which accounts for almost half of all our total research time,” said Dr Marg Pardey, Chief Research Facilitator with MMI and Post Doctoral Research Fellow with Macquarie University. “For the remainder, we are engaged in clinical trials as well as funded research in partnership with other research institutions.

“Our key areas of focus are oncology, cardiology, neurology, multiple sclerosis and musculo-skeletal medicine. In partnership with the Hospital, we have a large focus on MRI, where there are important gains to be made in optimising the techniques used.”

MMI’s MRI research is led by Professor John Magnussen and focuses largely on neurology, in particular neuro-oncology and neurodegenerative diseases – including Alzheimers disease and dementia.

One study is investigating the ability to accurately measure with non-invasive techniques a genetic metabolite, 2HG, to improved diagnostic and prognostic outcomes for brain tumour patients.

“In Europe and America, they use magnetic resonance spectroscopy to quantify 2HG,” explained Professor Magnussen. “Macquarie University Hospital neurosurgeon Dr Antonio Di Ieva is working with our team to establish this in Australia. Indeed, within the last few months we have become the first site in the Southern Hemisphere to conduct such a study. Such a technique lets us use advanced MRI instead of a brain biopsy.”

Musculoskeletal imaging research is also growing at MMI under Dr John Read’s leadership. Here, MMI’s goal is to maximise anatomical detail and also to provide new information of greater clinical relevance about joint function and dysfunction.

Anatomical resolution is key to the detection and characterisation of many musculoskeletal injuries, particularly those that involve macroscopic tissue disruptions. However, functional information is also required to understand other common musculoskeletal disorders such as pain syndromes that reflect mechanical dysfunctions rather than disruptions.

Key cardiac imaging research projects aim to reduce the duration of scans, while maintaining high imaging standards. Traditionally, the availability of cardiac MRIs has been limited, as extended scan duration and the need for specialist attendance make them overly expensive. Driven by Professor Stuart Grieve, research in this area aims to generate a robust MRI examination that can be conducted routinely and quickly, making it viable for cardiac MRIs to enter into standard clinical practice.

“In a new and exciting oncology program, MMI researchers are looking to develop MRI biomarkers to replace biopsy for diagnosis,” said Dr Pardey. “The implications of this are significant, enabling not only earlier and more accurate diagnosis but the potential to tailor treatment through individual medicine.

“MMI has a close working relationship with Macquarie University Hospital to support its clinical work. For example, MMI conducts the essential scans for patients prior to Gamma Knife treatment. Further, MMI assists the Cochlear Institute with their research developing implants that are safe to enter an MRI environment, and that remain functional afterwards.”

MMI’s national and international reach

MMI is the selected site for many large multi-site clinical trials that utilise CT, MRI, PET and bone scans. A large proportion of these are oncology based with neurodegenerative diseases, predominantly Alzheimers disease and the dementias, making up the remainder.

MMI works very closely with Associate Professor Kathryn Goozee of KaRa MINDS, and Professor Howard Gurney of the Clinical Trials Unit Macquarie University in conducting these trials. One such trial is the ‘TotAL trial’ which is a very large investigator-initiated trial led by Professor Ralph Martin. This trial, due to start in the coming months, will investigate the effects of testosterone supplementation on cognitive functioning in older men, as a potential future treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

Funded research sees a broad range of collaborative work, including through the ARC and NHMRC, with other universities such as Western Sydney, New South Wales and Sydney University. Researchers at MMI also actively engage in supervising PhD students and Master of Research students across various faculties of Macquarie University.

MMI selected to international Parkinson’s initiative

In 2012, MMI was selected as the only site in Australia to participate in the prestigious, international Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI). MMI was selected because of its advanced research programs in MRI and PET, its research and technical expertise, and its convenient location to Macquarie University Hospital.

PPMI, established by American actor Michael J Fox, is a landmark observational clinical study to comprehensively evaluate cohorts using advanced imaging, biologic sampling and clinical and behavioural assessments to identify biomarkers of Parkinson’s disease progression.