MRC DiMeN Doctoral Training Partnership: Development of spinal cord PET-MRI for translational neuroscience applications

Closing Date
6 Jan 2020
Competition funded (UK/European students only).
Fully funded by the MRC for 3.5yrs, including a minimum of 3 months working within the industry partner.

The combination of positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in hybrid PET-MRI scanners promises major advances in our understanding of neurodegenerative disease and development of more effective treatment. Unfortunately, whilst PET-MRI is routinely applied in the brain, accurate assessment of the spinal cord is not currently feasible. This is a significant limitation because the cord could play an important role in various neurodegenerative diseases such as motor neuron disease (MND) or progressive multiple sclerosis (MS).


In this project you will have a chance to make a real impact on clinical practice and basic neuroscience by developing a method that will enable the study of neurodegenerative disease in the spinal cord with a novel cutting-edge PET/MRI device. The main barrier to PET-MRI of the spinal cord is inaccurate positron attenuation correction in the surrounding bone, and you will help to resolve this problem by developing dedicated solutions for PET/MRI scanners with novel time-of-flight (TOF) PET detectors.

Work plan

You will develop and validate novel image reconstruction methods for TOF PET-MRI of the spinal cord. You will combine this with novel MRI methods such as Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) to enable a combined assessment of spinal cord metabolism, function, morphology and microstructure. You will then use this new technique in a clinical study to determine whether the spinal cord of MND patients is less metabolically active than in controls, and whether this is related to changes in the microstructure.

Profile and training

You will have a strong background and keen interest in physics, engineering or computational sciences with direct applications in medicine. The work will involve the development of advanced image reconstruction algorithms, visualisation methods, simulations in digitised organs and body areas, experiments in test objects and experiments in human volunteers and patients.

You will learn to handle complex numerical inverse problems and how to integrate these in a clinical workflow, and you will learn to operate and program PET/MRI scanners and how to set up and run experiments in a realistic clinical setting. You will interact closely with a multi-disciplinary team of supervisors and collaborators, and will have an opportunity to get experience working closely with a commercial collaborator (General Electric).


You will be based in the POLARIS group in the Faculty of Medicine and Health in the University of Sheffield, which has direct access to MRI and PET/MRI facilities:
The project is led by Prof. Steven Sourbron, an MRI physicist and newly appointed Chair in Medical Imaging Physics in the University of Sheffield:
You will be co-supervised by Dr. Harry Tsoumpas, PET/MRI physicist at the University of Leeds and world-leading expert in PET/MRI reconstruction:
Clinical co-supervisor is Dr. Tom Jenkins, consultant neurologist and expert in Motor Neuron Disease:

Benefits of being in the DiMeN DTP:

This project is part of the Discovery Medicine North Doctoral Training Partnership (DiMeN DTP), a diverse community of PhD students across the North of England researching the major health problems facing the world today. Our partner institutions (Universities of Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield) are internationally recognised as centres of research excellence and can offer you access to state-of the-art facilities to deliver high impact research.

We are very proud of our student-centred ethos and committed to supporting you throughout your PhD. As part of the DTP, we offer bespoke training in key skills sought after in early career researchers, as well as opportunities to broaden your career horizons in a range of non-academic sectors.

Being funded by the MRC means you can access additional funding for research placements, international training opportunities or internships in science policy, science communication and beyond. See how our current DiMeN students have benefited from this funding here:

Further information on the programme can be found on our website:

Funding Notes

iCASE Award: Industrial partnership project:

Fully funded by the MRC for 3.5yrs, including a minimum of 3 months working within the industry partner. Enhanced stipend, tuition fees and budget for consumables, travel and subsistence.

Studentships commence: 1st October 2020.

To qualify, you must be a UK or EU citizen who has been resident in the UK/EU for 3 years prior to commencement. Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least a 2.1 honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject. All applications are scored blindly based on merit. For additional guidance here and to apply please click here: View Website

Good luck!


Smith EE, Biessels GJ, De Guio F, de Leeuw FE, Duchesne S, Düring M, Frayne R, Ikram MA, Jouvent E, MacIntosh BJ, Thrippleton MJ, Vernooij MW, Adams H, Backes WH, Ballerini L, Black SE, Chen C, Corriveau R, DeCarli C, Greenberg SM, Gurol ME, Ingrisch M, Job D, Lam BYK, Launer LJ, Linn J, McCreary CR, Mok VCT, Pantoni L, Pike GB, Ramirez J, Reijmer YD, Romero JR, Ropele S, Rost NS, Sachdev PS, Scott CJM, Seshadri S, Sharma M, Sourbron S, Steketee RME, Swartz RH, van Oostenbrugge R, van Osch M, van Rooden S, Viswanathan A, Werring D, Dichgans M, Wardlaw JM. 2019. Harmonizing brain magnetic resonance imaging methods for vascular contributions to neurodegeneration. Alzheimer's and Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment and Disease Monitoring. 11, pp. 191-204

Deidda D, Karakatsanis NA, Robson PM, Efthimiou N, Fayad ZA, Aykroyd RG, Tsoumpas C. 2019. Effect of PET-MR Inconsistency in the Kernel Image Reconstruction Method. IEEE Transactions on Radiation and Plasma Medical Sciences. 3(4), pp. 400-409

Jenkins TM, Alix JJP, David C, Pearson E, Rao DG, Hoggard N, O’Brien E, Baster K, Bradburn M, Bigley J, McDermott CJ, Wilkinson ID, Shaw PJ. Imaging muscle as a potential biomarker in motor neuron disease. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 2018; 89: 248-255

Contact Details

Dr Emily Goodall BSc (Hons), PhD, SFHEA


Tel: 0114 22 23615

Twitter: @DiMeN_DTP



Address: Bateson Centre, University of Sheffield, Firth Court, Sheffield, S10 2TN