Developing a new type of MRI scan to measure abnormalities in muscles and help to diagnose MND.

Dan Baxter-Beard

PhD Student: Dan Baxter-Beard

Principal Investigator: Prof Andrew Blamire

Lead Institution: Newcastle University

MND Association Funding: £94,500

Funding dates: September 2022 - September 2025

About the project

There is an urgent need for new diagnostic strategies for MND. For decades, the time from symptom onset to diagnosis has remained largely unchanged, preventing early access to treatment. This studentship will make developments to a new type of MRI scan called motor unit MRI (MUMRI). The scan can take images of multiple muscles simultaneously across the whole limb and identify the motor units (MU), structures composed of motor nerves and muscle fibres which control muscle movement. Crucially, this takes only 3 minutes, is entirely non-invasive, pain-free and has the potential to automatically measure abnormalities in muscles inaccessible to needle electromyography (current diagnosis strategy). The student will then test MUMRI in a comparative study between confirmed MND patients and patients with benign fasciculation to determine the diagnostic value. The methods developed in this studentship will directly contribute to the design of a large scale MUMRI trial for the diagnosis of MND which will be the next step towards adoption of the method into routine clinical use.

What could this mean for MND research?

This project will develop a new type of MRI scan which is non-invasive, quick and pain-free. The project will then also look at using the MUMRI to help diagnose MND. This is crucial to people living with MND as at the moment diagnosing MND is a lengthy process and involves ruling out other diseases first. Earlier diagnosis is needed for potential treatments to be effective. Additionally, earlier diagnosis will allow more people to be eligible for clinical trials, since they often have entry criteria where people early in the disease will have more chance of entering the trial.

Project code: 902-792