Nola Thompson Centre for Advanced Imaging - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Nola Thompson Centre for Advanced Imaging

The Nola Thompson Centre for Advanced Imaging carries out multimodal neuroimaging to investigate mental health disorders and disease.

This multimodal approach advances understanding of the developing adolescent brain, neurodegeneration and ageing, and the efficacy of interventions in mental health disorders.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 

The MRI is an extremely versatile imaging system that can be operated in many modes to generate different images. This allows researchers to:

  • Understand how the brain is functionally and structurally wired in health and disease
  • Identify neuro biomarkers for early disease detection
  • Quantify brain activation during cognitive tasks
  • Understand how physical health impacts our mental health

Your first scan and what to expect 

The following short clip explains what you can expect before, during and after your MRI scan.

 

What will happen at my MRI appointment 

Safety preparations

When you arrive for your visit, you will meet with a researcher in the waiting room who will review the schedule of your visit.

You will complete an MRI pre-screening questionnaire outlining your relevant medical history and a study consent form. If you have a support person with you, they must also complete the MRI pre-screening questionnaire. The researcher will take your height and weight measurements.

When it is time for your MRI, the research team will introduce you to the radiographer. The radiographer is responsible for the safe operation of the MRI. They will review your pre-screening questionnaire, let you know what to expect during your MRI scan and they will help to answer any questions you may have.

For your safety, we ask that all participants get change into our MRI-safe scrubs. Various sizes are available, as well as a private change room with a mirror and locker for storing your personal items.

We also ask that you remove any extra items that could react with the MRI. This includes keys, shoes, bras, watches, jewellery, Fitbits, actigraphy devices, piercings, chest monitors, hearing aids, bobby pins, hair clips, belts with metal buckles, medication patches containing foil, removable mouth-plates/dentures and any other metallic items. If you have any questions about what to remove, please ask the radiographer.

The radiographer will perform a final safety check and ensure you are ready for your scan.

The MRI

When you are ready, the radiographer will show you into the MRI room while the researcher waits in the console room next door, where they will sit for the duration of the imaging.

You will be asked to lie on your back for the scan. The radiographer will provide you with a blanket and pillows for under your legs, arms and head. Your comfort is very important, so please do let the radiographer know if there is anything else you need to help you relax.

You will be given a call button that can be used at any time to speak with the radiographer on a two-way intercom.

The MRI can get noisy, which is normal. To help protect your hearing, the radiograher will help fit earplugs. Depending on the study, you may be offered MRI-safe headphones to listen to music, or to hear instructions for a task. You may also have a mirror positions so that you can see a TV screen, or the study staff during your scan.

Once you are comfortable to start, the radiographer will slowly move your bed into the MRI machine. The radiographer will let you know when the scan is about to begin, and will talk with you throughout the scan.

Please remember, your comfort is important. The scan can be stopped at any time if you are experiencing discomfort, or if you would like to speak with the radiographer.

Finishing

Once the MRI session is complete, the radiographer will slowly move your bed out of the MRI and guide you out of the MRI room. You can then get changed back into your own clothes. The MRI is cleaned and sanitised between each scan by the Radiographer.

Frequently asked questions

Our radiographer and research staff are happy to answer any additional questions you may have.

Why do I need to wear MRI-safe scrubs?

In line with recommendations from The Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR), the Thompson Institute requires that all participants undergoing an MRI change into MRI-safe scrubs for the duration of the MRI session.

We provide 100% cotton shirt scrubs and full-length pant scrubs to wear, available in a variety of sizes. If preferred, multiple scrub shirts or scrub pants can be provided. Private change rooms and storage lockers are available.

Participants may continue to wear their underwear underneath the scrub pants but should avoid moisture-wicking fabric. All other items of clothing and accessories (including bras and crops) must be removed. This includes keys, shoes, bras, watches, jewellery, Fitbits, actigraphy devices, piercings, chest monitors, hearing aids, bobby pins, hair clips, belts with metal buckles, medication patches containing foil, removable mouth-plates/dentures and any other metallic items.

Many modern fabrics can also include small traces of non-MRI safe material, such as silver-infused fabrics often found in active-leisure wear.

If you have any further questions, please ask the radiographer.

How does an MRI work?

MRI is a non-ionizing imaging technique that allows researchers to image all parts of the body, in this case the brain.

MRI utilises the natural magnetic properties of water molecules to generate signal and therefore build up a 3D map of all the different tissues within the body. The human brain is made up of more than 80% water and therefore provides a lot of MRI signal which we can measure to determine tissue properties, such as volume, metabolite concentration, structure and function.

Is it safe?

MRI is a non-invasive technology. It requires no contrasting agents or dyes to be injected. Nor does it use radiation like x-rays and CT scans. No health risks have been associated with repeat exposure to MRIs.

How long does brain imaging take?

The MRI brain imaging will typically take an hour.

What causes the noise in the scanner?

The noise that the scanner creates is the electrical current rising within the wires of the gradient magnet. The current in the wires are opposing the main magnet field. The stronger the field the louder the noise. This noise is normal and is harmless.

Will it hurt?

No. You will not feel anything. A call button will be given to you before the exam is started. It will allow you to maintain two-way communication with the radiographer at any time during the exam.

What happens if I change my mind and want to stop?

You can speak to the radiographer at any time during your visit, and can request to stop at any time.

Why is my whole body in the scanner if you are only scanning my head?

The area of the scanner that creates the images is located in the centre of the magnet and is called the isocentre. Therefore, most of your upper body will need to be in the scanner in order to scan your head.

Why do they need my height and weight measurements?

There are some height and weight restrictions for the MRI.

What happens to the information collected during the imaging?

Study personnel will ensure that all research-related documentation is stored in accordance with the relevant ethics and USC records management requirements.

On request, one digital image will be provided to the participant by the relevant study personnel.

What happens if they find something unusual in my brain images?

All participants scanned at the Thompson Institute will have previously consented to being contacted directly or through their caregiver in the event of an incidental finding.

Different types of imaging 

About MRI

MRI is a non-ionizing imaging technique that allows researchers to image all parts of the body, in this case the brain.

MRI utilises the natural magnetic properties of water molecules to generate signal and therefore build up a 3D map of all the different tissues within the body. The human brain is made up of~83% water and therefore provides a lot of MRI signal which we can measure to determine tissue properties, such as volume, metabolite concentration, structure and function.

MRI is a non-invasive technology. It requires no contrasting agents or dyes to be injected. Nor does it use radiation like x-rays and CT scans. No health risks have been associated with repeat exposure to MRIs.

Some people may experience claustrophobia or anxiety in the MRI scanner. The MRI radiographer is trained to deal with these situations. Imaging can be discontinued at any time.

It is important that certain metals do not enter the MRI. All individual's undertake a MRI checklist to ensure it is safe for them to be imaged. Researchers discuss this with an individual and/or their parent/caregiver prior to any imaging.

Structural MRI

Structural MRI

This type of MRI imaging provides great contrast between the grey matter (the information processing part of the brain) and white matter (the information highway that connects regions of the brain, sending messages between them). Researchers use this imaging to quantify cortical thickness and subcortical volumes for each individual so that they can look for changes in brain volume with disease/disorder.

Diffusion MRI

Diffusion MRI

Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) is a type of MRI imaging that allows researchers to plot the white matter fibres in the brain. White matter fibres are the information highway that connects regions of the brain and sends messages between them. DTI imaging provides a detailed map of the structural architecture of an individual’s brain and how regions in the brain are connected. Researchers use these images to determine difference in brain white matter (structural connectivity) between health and disease/disorder.

Spectroscopy MRI

Spectroscopy MRI

Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS) is a type of MRI imaging that quantifies chemicals within the brain which are important for normal cognitive function. Researchers use MRS to identify chemical biomarkers of disorder and track changes in chemical make-up of the brain with treatment interventions.

Functional MRI

Functional MRI

Functional MRI (fMRI) is a type of MRI imaging allowing researchers to map brain activation at rest or when performing a task. Different regions of the brain work together in networks to perform cognitive tasks. Researchers use fMRI imaging to further understanding of how different regions of the brain communicate and work together to function effectively.

Neuroimaging research opportunities

Opportunities are available for Honours and PhD research projects. Research will employ cutting-edge neuroimaging methods combined with quantitative, data-driven modelling and analyses for:

  • functional and structural connectivity characterisation
  • biomarker profiling
  • explicating mechanisms that underpin psychiatric conditions

Research contact: Professor Jim Lagopoulos, Director

Neurophysiological assessment (EEG)     

Electroencephalography (EEG) measures the brain’s electrical activity or ‘oscillations’, which represent the synchronised activity over a network of neurons (brain cells).

EEG can tell researchers about how our brains behave during a resting state (idle) and how our brains respond when required to undertake a specific task (process information).

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) 

TMS is a mild form of brain stimulation. Magnetic fields are used to stimulate a localised area of the brain cortex. It aims to alter brain activity by increasing cortical neuronal firing, which over time changes activity in connected brain regions. TMS treatment is provided daily for over a period of two to nine weeks.

TMS has successfully treated treatment-resistant depression, and current research is looking at TMS effectiveness in the treatment of other conditions, including chronic pain.

This safe, non-invasive treatment is provided as a clinical service at the Thompson Institute.