NeuRA Imaging


The NeuRA Imaging Centre houses a 3 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. This scanner allows researchers to measure brain structure and function, as well as connectivities and chemistry in a non-invasive manner. In April 2007, the original Philips scanner was replaced with the latest model, the “Achieva”, having larger field gradients and a second radiofrequency channel. This enabled researchers to undertake a more extensive range of exciting new experiments, including 31P (brain bioenergetics) and 13C (brain metabolism) experiments, and to obtain higher angular resolution in their images.

During 2007, research using the scanner was expanded. A grant from the NSW Cancer Council allowed the Imaging Centre to purchase additional equipment to image smaller items. In addition, the facility joined the Australian National Imaging Facility, becoming part of a nationwide network that includes imaging facilities in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. From this National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) scheme, NeuRA Imaging was able to employ a Facilitation Fellow, Dr Michael Green, from 2008 to assist researchers who wish to access the facility under the National Imaging Facility.

Following a successful ARC Linkage Infrastructure and Equipment Fund (LIEF) application, the system was upgraded to Achieva TX in 2010. This system has multi-transmit technology as well as 32 receiver channels. A next generation 32 channel head coil was also purchased as part of this ARC grant. More than 90 projects are currently approved to use the facility.

See what’s going on at NeuRA


Abdominal muscle stimulation to improve bowel function in spinal cord injury

Bowel complications, resulting from impaired bowel function, are common for people living with a spinal cord injury (SCI). As a result, people with a SCI have high rates of bowel related illness, even compared with those with other neurological disorders. This includes high rates of abdominal pain, constipation, faecal incontinence and bloating. These problems lower the quality of life of people with a SCI and place a financial burden on the health system. A treatment that improves bowel function for people with a SCI should reduce illness, improve quality of life and lead to a large cost saving for health care providers. Bowel problems have traditionally been managed with manual and pharmacological interventions, such as digital rectal stimulation, enemas, and suppositories. These solutions are usually only partially effective, highlighting the need for improved interventions. The abdominal muscles are one of the major muscle groups used during defecation. Training the abdominal muscles should improve bowel function by increasing abdominal pressure. During our previous Abdominal FES research with people with a SCI, we observed that Abdominal FES appeared to lead to more consistent and effective bowel motion. However, this evidence remains anecdotal. As such, we are going to undertake a large randomised controlled trial to investigate the effectiveness of Abdominal FES to improve the bowel function of people with a SCI. This study will make use of a novel measurement system (SmartPill, Medtronic) that can be swallowed to measure whole gut and colonic transit time. We will also assess whether Abdominal FES can change constipation-related quality of life and the use of laxatives and manual procedures, as well as the frequency of defecation and the time taken. A positive outcome from this study is likely to lead to the rapid clinical translation of this technology for people living with a SCI.