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Foresight study for the development of an European NeuroImage Repository

Final Report Summary - ENIR (Foresight study for the development of an European NeuroImage Repository)

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive diagnostic technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create high quality images of the head or body, without X-rays or radiation. Images are black and white representations of the brain tissues (grey and white matter and cerebrospinal fluid) of high spatial resolution (around 1 mm). Computerised algorithms can reconstruct the whole brain into realistic 3D models that can be treated mathematically. Such information on brain structure is pivotal for research about early diagnosis of neurodegenerative disorders.

The major problem that the basic and clinical researchers face is the huge variability of brain morphology such that the judgement of what constitutes normality or the comparison among different brain groups are loaded with great uncertainty, indeed, the structural variability of the brain is much higher than that of all other organs. In order to model and manage this variability, a wide amount of brain images and information on the sources of variability (age, gender, education, disease state, cognitive performance, genetic asset, etc.) are needed. To reach meaningful numbers, such a repository cannot be collected in a single centre, but requires that brain images taken from many centres be pooled. Moreover, consistent sociodemographic, clinical, neuropsychological, and genetic information are mandatory for a meaningful interpretation of the images and pathology would be desirable (the definitive diagnosis of most neurodegenerative disorders can be obtained only on pathology). A European repository of this kind does not exist at the present time due to the lack of a structured communication network among centres and of the huge heterogeneity of acquisition protocols and clinical information collected from the patients.

The ENIR project carried out a foresight study to investigate the scientific needs in relation to the development of a large and shared European multidimensional repository of high resolution magnetic resonance (MR) images of normal brains and brains with different neurodegenerative disorders (Alzheimer's, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, etc.) completed by clinical, genetic and neuropsychological data. The ENIR project investigated the needed standardisation topics and practical implications in acquisition, processing and storage of neuroimages by means of a co-ordinated approach to the setting up of a devoted research infrastructure, making the best use of those already existing.

Consensus was achieved on a number of currently discordant theoretical and practical issues that have so far hindered the setting up of a large European brain image repository. The proposed study identified standardised procedures in order to make the best use of existing repositories, in view of their increased integration towards the development of the future European infrastructure.

In the long term, the project results may pave the way for a future development of a pilot prototype of the repository on a restricted number of centres. Once operational, the system could be extended to clinical and research centres and expanded with different types of images (positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), etc.), attracting users from various countries, thus facilitating their integration and supporting the construction of the European Research Area. Potential beneficiaries are members of academic and industrial community having an interest in the study of normal and diseased brain. The project will also result in a benefit, in the long-term, of translational research and clinical practice related to neurodegenerative disorders.

The consortium has organised three main management meetings, to discuss project issues and progress: the kick off meeting, which was held in Cernusco sul Naviglio (Italy) on 17 March 2006; a teleconference (virtual meeting), which was held on 4 December 2006; the final meeting, which was held in Cernusco sul Naviglio (Italy) on 16 February 2007. Furthermore, continuous e-mail exchange and phone conversations were held to guarantee a prompt implementation of project activities and the production of deliverables.

The activities carried out in the frame of ENIR were mainly disseminated through the project website, (see http://www.enir.eu online), and through a large number of sector meetings, which guaranteed the dissemination to all interested stakeholders, such as researchers, pharmaceutical companies, principal investigators representing other EU-funded projects, as well as European Commission officers.

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