Event Report – The role of advanced imaging at the White Rose Universities for addressing key biomedical questions of the future
The White Rose Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York are home to some of the top European Centres in Advanced Imaging and Microscopy studying the impact of disease on individual cells at a macromolecular level.
Introduced by Professor Dave Petley, Vice-President for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield, the event saw a panel of experts present their cutting edge research on the use of advanced imaging in the design of new medicines for the future. Given uncertain times, the universities remain “undimmed in our commitment to engagement with Europe”.
Dr Peter O’ Toole, who leads the Bioscience Technical Facility at the University of York, argued that microscopy is one of the most important tools for life scientists as it enables dynamic studies of protein within a single living cell, giving quantitative measurements of mass, thickness, area and velocity. He presented ‘Dyson’ the hoover cell, gobbling up old cell detritus within the brain. Seeing the behaviour of single cells without the need of labelling or staining, over a time lapsed period, can be used to better understand cancer, for stem cell research and for developmental biology.
Professor Michelle Peckham from the Astbury Centre showed the range of Super Resolution Imaging (SRI) work being carried out at the University of Leeds. SRI can capture images of a virus within a cell at a very fast rate which allows analysis of virus behaviour, showing how it moves whilst creating a 3D image of the virus for the life scientists to study. She also described the use of affirmers, which are more effective than antibodies, at getting closer to the virus you are trying to study.
Professor Jim Wild, described his work with Magnetic Resonance Imaging, at the University of Sheffield to diagnose the early development of respiratory disease which other more standard tests fail to detect. He showed lung images of children with cystic fibrosis, where lung deterioration was evident from the MRI images even though spirometry tests were still normal. Added to this was treatment response mapping which showed the impact of drugs on different lung conditions – where it was working well, and where problems still persisted – which will become key in the realm of personalised medicine of the future.
Finally, Ms Katja Neubauer, from DG Health, described the work of the European Commission in the digitisation of healthcare across the Member States. The first priority area is in providing citizens with better access to their own healthcare data everywhere in the EU so that if they fall ill whilst away from home, they can share their healthcare summary with any clinician. The second priority is connecting and sharing health data by bringing together health databases, a huge technical demand; and the third priority to empower citizens in their own healthcare by using digital systems for treatment as the demand on healthcare services soars across Europe. This has the scope to enable the tracking of new disease behaviour eg ebola if there was an outbreak across the EU.
The Panel, asked to consider which key advance in imaging would be most useful, responded with: the ability to plot a single cell history to see how it actually functions; to determine the structural complexity of big proteins; for AI and machine learning to process the images; and to enable GPs to use genomic data for devising the most effective treatments on an individual level. Given the huge potential of imaging, the current barriers were identified as the need for funding to drive the work forward; to be able to understand and use the enormous amounts of data being captured; the need to attract top mathematicians and computer scientists into biology research when top salaries are available elsewhere; to work out which is the best approach given the explosion in the types of techniques available; and the current lack of interoperability of data in technical, semantic and legal terms. Further Q&A followed on the ability to combine MRI and microscopy, the possibility of combining with optics, in vivo versus in vitro and will it be possible to fully understand how primary cells behave in each patient.
A concluding thought was that as electronics improve, the cost of advanced imaging becomes cheaper and there is a role for the EU to persuade manufacturers to make such equipment available so that the Global South could also benefit.
You can see some of the presentations from this event below