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Medical imaging with light, sound and sugar (!) at the Royal Summer Science Exhibition

Thomas A Roberts9 July 2014

Have you ever broken a bone and been for an MRI scan? Perhaps your dentist has interrogated your fillings with an14520757366_9435d47805 x-ray of your jaw. Or maybe you’ve seen a baby curled in its mother’s womb on an ultrasound machine. Medical imaging has revolutionised our lives to the point where we can see inside our bodies with incredible clarity. But now a new wave of imaging techniques is coming.

Now, we can use light to illuminate deep inside our bodies to see individual, microscopic cells dividing. We can use sound to generate exquisitely detailed images of blood vessels. And, we can even use sugar to make tumours within our bodies glow.

At this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, held last week, my colleagues and I from the UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging (CABI) exhibited the next generation of techniques that we are developing in our lab which push the boundaries of what we can see inside the human body. Having conquered the Cheltenham Science Festival, the CABI team showcased  a completely new exhibition.

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UCL Neuroscience Symposium 2014: an overview

ucyow3c2 July 2014

pencil-iconWritten by Jack Moore, BSc student at St Mary’s University

With over 800 people attending and almost 200 posters being presented, there was a real sense of excitement around the halls of the Institute of Education (IoE) where the 5th annual UCL Neuroscience symposium was held on 19 June.

James Rothman

Professor James Rothman

With so many people at the event, and so much being presented, it was a great opportunity to discover what other researchers have been doing and share thoughts on the latest developments. Over the years the event has only got bigger, with the entry queue this year winding all the way up the stairs of the IoE.

The day began with last year’s Nobel Prize winner, Professor James Rothman (Yale University), giving a thought-provoking opening keynote speech on how calcium controls neurotransmitter release to a packed auditorium of both students and staff. As Professor Rothman is a Professorial Research Associate in the UCL Institute of Neurology, it seemed a fitting way to begin a symposium in which such a diverse and successful domain get a chance to come together and learn about what is being achieved by different institutes and laboratories.

After the applause for Professor Rothman had quietened down, everyone finally had a chance to see all 180 posters on offer at the event. Dr Martine Groen, who was on the panel deciding this year’s Laboratory Poster Prize, told me the winning poster would have to be one that was nice to read and walk through, making clear what the research question is and why it is interesting.

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Going out with a Bang – Behind the Scenes at Cheltenham – Day 6/6

Thomas A Roberts18 June 2012

Brain Scan Live Lineup

The Brain Scan Live offenders line up

Behind the Scenes at Cheltenham is a daily blog from the UCL CABI team at Cheltenham Science Festival. Every day, a member of the team will be talking about their experiences of running a stand.

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 |

Orchestrating and conducting a live MRI scan for an audience of more than 600 people is very hard. Very, very hard.

On the penultimate day, our boss and director of the Festival, Mark Lythgoe, phoned me. He was due to present a show the following day titled Brain Scan Live: Lies and Deception, and he wanted me to take an integral role behind the scenes.

The idea of the show was to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to demonstrate that your brain doesn’t lie when presented with images that evoke a memorable response.

I was primarily tasked with constructing a crime scene where a volunteer from the audience would commit theft. The participant would then be taken to the nearby Cobalt Imaging Centre where they would be presented with pictures of the crime scene while undergoing an fMRI scan. In theory, photos from the crime scene would evoke a strong ‘lighting-up’ of the brain in the scans whereas photos of unfamiliar rooms would have little effect.

The first challenge was finding a room for the crime scene: we located a small office in the Cheltenham Town Hall. There was a distinct sense of irony when I had to explain to a stranger that I was rearranging her office and sifting through her desk drawers for a science experiment.

Despite her raised eyebrows, I convinced her I was telling the truth. Quickly I set about rearranging the room and planting some visual cues designed to evoke the volunteer’s recognition response during the scan. These included some crates of Coke cans, a mask replete with glowing green hair, some deliberately placed indoor plants, a dirty plate and a giant foam thumb pointing at the bounty. Furiously I photographed the office along with another four different control rooms before bed.

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