A new National Preclinical Imaging Centre (NPIC) which will provide enhanced research data to inform new clinical trials that aim to improve patient outcomes, has been awarded funding of €3.4 million under the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Research Infrastructure Programme.

The centre, which is the first of its kind in Ireland, is being established and co-funded by University College Dublin (UCD), RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences and CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices, based at NUI Galway.

Tissue engineering

The centre’s imaging infrastructure will support the development of new therapeutics and diagnostics in human disease areas including cancer, neurology, dementia, psychiatry, cardiology, medical devices, diabetes, tissue engineering, nanomedicine and inflammatory disease.

UCD will receive a little more than €2 million of the award funding and has committed to complementing this with additional co-funding of about €645,000. This will support equipment purchase, refurbishment and technical support.

Professor Orla Feely, UCD vice-president for research, innovation and impact, and Engineers Ireland vice-president, said: "UCD is delighted to be part of this significant development in national research infrastructure.

"As the host university to Precision Oncology Ireland and home to a number of medical and biomedical centres of research, including the UCD Conway Institute, we aim to stay at the forefront of pre-clinical research and personalised medicine, driving discoveries in diagnostics and treatments and innovation for better patient outcomes."

High resolution imaging technologies

“The National Preclinical Imaging Centre’s high resolution imaging technologies will allow the research community in Ireland to respond to future international research challenges and will provide important support infrastructure for SFI Research Centres, Irish academic institutes and industry collaborators,” said director of NPIC, Professor Annette Byrne, head of the RCSI Precision Cancer Medicine Group, Department of Physiology and Medical Physics and Centre for Systems Medicine at RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“The centre’s resources will allow us to work more collaboratively on research projects with clinicians and on training initiatives in radiology, which are critical elements of translating laboratory research finding to improvements in patient care in clinical settings,” added Prof Byrne.

NPIC will provide a national pre-clinical imaging resource open to all academic, industry and not-for-profit researchers, and will have locations in Dublin (RCSI, UCD) and Galway (NUI Galway).

NPIC establishes a national pre-clinical magnetic resonance (MR) facility, a national high-field preclinical MR/chemical imaging platform and incorporates a high-resolution micro-computed tomography (CT) and Optical Imaging laboratory.

'Unparalleled national resource'

“This infrastructural funding provided by SFI, which is complemented by financial support from each of our partner institutions, along with in-kind contributions from industry, will provide an unparalleled national resource for advancing in vivo imaging," said Professor William Gallagher, associate director of NPIC, director, UCD Conway Institute and deputy director, Precision Oncology Ireland. 

"Our research in the area of precision oncology will benefit considerably from being able to image non-invasively tumour growth and spread, leading to improved understanding of disease and associated therapeutic options.

“I am delighted to see the establishment of NPIC as it will provide a significant boost to our existing capabilities across academic, industry and clinical networks allowing us to further progress medical device research and its clinical application in each of our disease target areas,” said Professor Abhay Pandit, associate director of NPIC and scientific director at CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices at NUI Galway.