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MSFHR Funding Offers Opportunity to Expand Scope of MRI Potential

By July 3, 2018No Comments

In 2011, when Dr. Shannon Kolind was splitting her time as a postdoctoral fellow between Oxford University and King’s College London, a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) trainee award helped her decide between staying in the United Kingdom where she’d continue her work in physics, or returning home to take on a more translational research program with the MRI Research Centre at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The award, which brought her back to UBC, set her on a path toward establishing a collaborative neurological research program linking the development and application of myelin- and axon-sensitive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques with clinical trials and, ultimately, more individualized patient care.

Dr. Kolind recently received a second MSFHR award, this time to fund her work in developing and applying unconventional neuroimaging methods for quantitative assessment of brain tissue health. The award will support her inquiry into the biological mechanism of MRI-visible changes in the brain in multiple sclerosis (MS).

“MRI is a valuable tool for observing changes in the brain, but there are limitations – conventional MRI is qualitative, which means that we can see that the brain is changing, but the biological underpinnings of those changes are unclear,” Dr. Kolind explains. “We’re essentially building an atlas. Once we understand how the brain changes in a given population, we can take that comprehensive imaging data and compare an individual’s scans, which will enable clinicians and caregivers to develop a more personalized treatment plan.”

Dr. Kolind’s research program aims to provide specific measures related to myelin loss or axonal damage. Myelin is a fatty substance that surrounds the nerve fibres (axons) of the brain and spinal cord to speed up nerve conduction. Myelin protects axons from inflammation; when myelin is damaged, electrical signal transmission between neurons is hindered and can cause cellular exhaustion and death, leading to a range of symptoms, including numbness or weakness, vision loss, tremors, dizziness and fatigue. Loss of myelin is most commonly associated with MS.