Strategic collaborations across disciplines, and with clinicians and partners in industry, are vital to deliver on the promise offered by advances in brain imaging, according to Dr. John Williams, head of neuroscience and mental health at the Wellcome Trust.
"If we work together to address the major research and training challenges presented within the field, then the technology can be as transformative in the next 20 years as it has been during the past 20," he noted at this week's launch of the trust's new report about functional brain imaging.
New functional techniques must be developed, and there is an urgent need to do basic, exploratory research, the authors of the report wrote. Furthermore, sample sizes in functional brain imaging studies should expand to increase understanding of the normal brain and the prevalence of specific conditions, and there is a need to identify specific goals and targets for functional brain imaging research.
Clinicians should be encouraged to participate more in the development of applications of functional imaging. In addition, a closer working relationship with industry is necessary to bring about developments in molecular imaging and to drive innovation in drug development; there needs to be greater understanding of the social and ethical implications of brain imaging research, they wrote.
Between 1990 and 2009, the Wellcome Trust invested 130.9 million euros ($184 million U.S.) on human functional brain imaging research, amounting to 2% of the total funding committed over this period. About 57 million euros ($80 million U.S.) was allocated to the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London, formerly known as the Functional Imaging Laboratory.
"The introduction of functional MRI 20 years ago has revolutionized our understanding of how the brain operates. However, whilst it is true that the field has seen immense progress over these two decades, there is still a vast amount to discover and develop if we are to use our new knowledge to deliver benefits to patients," said Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust.
The report identified a range of breakthroughs in functional imaging that have been critical in enhancing our knowledge of the brain, including the development of statistical and computational modeling that is helping to revolutionize the understanding of cerebral function.
The Wellcome Trust has provided funding for multidisciplinary research hubs that bring together individuals from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and sectors, and has helped to ensure the emergence of several world leaders in brain imaging research, including Drs. Karl Friston, Ray Dolan, Richard Frackowiak, and Christopher Frith.