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How do we train our students, postdocs, and officers to be world-class imaging scientists and sustaing world-class imaging science in the UK?


Nick Long, Paul French, Ramon Vilar Compte, Rebecca Wilson, Rebecca Nadal, Tony Gee and Felicity Gavins

Background & Rationale

As the world of biomedical imaging continues to move forward, the demand for scientists who understand imaging in all its complex ramifications and who can help design and produce the imaging technologies of the future will continue to increase. In particular, there will be a need for more scientists who can transcend the disciplinary boundaries and who can combine biological and medical insight and knowledge with the development and refinement of imaging technologies.

A basic understanding of cellular, molecular and systems biology will improve collaborations between imaging technologists (physicists, mathematicians and engineers) and life science users (biologists, clinicians and non-clinicians), and, most importantly, provide both with insight into the technology requirements for the foreseeable future. A new breed of imaging scientists, with greater insight into the biological and medical fields, would help ensure that future imaging technologies and methodologies are more effective at improving human life through scientific discovery and clinical application. Equally, by exposing biologists and medical students to biomedical imaging courses (encompassing probe design, underlying physics and signal processing aspects of the technologies) will help them to realise the true potential of these technologies and result in more effective usage.

New student training programmes for imaging research at multiple levels will be important for the continued growth in this field and to ensure that emerging technologies are used and applied to their full potential. Imaging training offered at both undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing professional development levels, with short courses ranging from basic, advanced, to highly specialised, would be beneficial to the biomedical imaging community as a whole.

Implementing MSc/PhD training programmes, in particular, will not only help produce the multidisciplinary imaging scientists of tomorrow, but will also help build links between supervising academics from different disciplines, and potential industrial partners. If structured effectively, new student training programmes will help enhance current multidisciplinary collaborations and boost the application of imaging technologies. In one model, students would have at least two supervisors for their PhD project (e.g. a physicist and a biologist) and work in two or more different labs. Such student training programmes can enhance the relationship between technologists, biologists and medical researchers, leading to more effective grant proposal applications in the field of biomedical imaging. Co-supervised students can make a huge difference in helping to build a cohort between the different disciplines and will bridge the gap between the technologists and non-technologists.

In addition to producing more imaging scientists who have an understanding of biological and medical aspects, student training programmes are an effective way of building capacity in a given area. A training programme in biomedical imaging would stimulate increased use, and demand for, new and existing technologies. Bioimaging students could help to make imaging technologies more accessible to other disciplines and open up new avenues of investigation, with new requirements and challenges being put forward by users.

Industrial partners are keen to engage with training programmes of this kind that can provide them with access to new research and technologies and also to employable trained specialists. Training programmes can therefore help augment industrial involvement in the biomedical imaging community and enhance knowledge transfer between the two sectors. MRes courses, in particular, encourage industrial collaboration when industrial partners either provide teaching in the MRes course or when industrial employees attend such courses (full-time or part-time).


The goal should be to develop training programmes to produce the next generation of imaging scientists to address current and future biomedical challenges. To do this we must bring together basic science, clinical and technology aspects in coherent programmes that can enhance technology development and application and increase their impact in biomedicine. Such training programmes should be aimed at bridging differences, perspectives and methodologies, so that young scientists can thrive in a multidisciplinary environment.

A 1+3 year MRes+PhD training programme has proved to be a very successful format, providing time for specialised training across the different intellectual cultures demanded by imaging-based science. Such a programme could begin with a one-year full-time Masters in Research (MRes) course, consisting of an eight-month interdisciplinary research project, plus taught lecture modules on elementary and advanced aspects of biomedicine, imaging techniques and applications, specialist lectures in transferable skills, a literature review on an imaging-related topic, group project work and workshops on the latest developments in imaging science. In the second year students progress to PhD research projects with multiple supervisors - which could entail supervisors from both engineering/physical sciences and from biological/medical sciences. This joint supervision will expose them to different scientific cultures and ensure that they experience technological development as well as application. With such a programme, the students can be trained as a cohort, so that students working on different imaging techniques can come together and benefit from dedicated seminar series (internal and external) and multidisciplinary journal clubs that can facilitate networking.

Current Training Programmes in BioImaging in the UK:

This list probably does not capture all the courses in the UK at this point in time but gives a good indication of the existing strength and breadth of imaging-related training.

  • Imperial College London offers a number of imaging related MRes and PhD courses.
    • The most specific to bioimaging is the one year MRes in Bioimaging Sciences, which features taught courses covering a wide range of aspects of bioimaging (PET, MRI, optical imaging, ultrasound - techniques and applications) and an interdisciplinary research-project. This MRes aims to train imaging scientists for industrial and academic research with the ability to carry out research within multidisciplinary teams, and with knowledge of basic and advanced concepts in bioimaging sciences. The Course Directors are currently exploring ways of expanding this course into a 1 + 3 (MRes + PhD) training and research programme.
    • The Chemical Biology Centre (CBC) at Imperial offers multidisciplinary MRes+PhD training (MRes in Chemical Biology of Health and Disease) that often embraces the development and application of imaging technology.
    • An MRes in Systems and Synthetic Biology (to "enable students to bridge the gap that can exist between the physical and life sciences because of differences in ‘language’, perspective and methodology") includes a module on microscopy
    • For more intensive optics related imaging research training, the Physics Department offers an MRes+PhD programme in Photonics that covers optical imaging at all scales.
    • Imperial College, Kings College, Uppsala University & University of Strasbourg are planning to set up a pan-European Masters program in Radiochemistry and Probe Design to start October 2011, as part of a Euro-BioImaging initiative.
  • Kings College, London offers a number of imaging related BSc, MRes/MSc, PhD and professional development courses.
    • 3 day PET course - PET Technology and Application – 13th – 15th April 2011. This course will be suitable for professionals already within industry, academic and healthcare sectors who want to enhance their knowledge, increase their skill set and to mix with other industrialists and academics and will be particularly relevant to managers, researchers and pharmaceutical industry representatives, working on the forefront of biomedical science with an interest to learn more about PET. More info
    • MSc/MRes in PET Radiochemistry - It is widely recognised that there is a severe skills shortage in the field of radiochemistry. The shortage is becoming keenly felt in the area of nuclear medicine and PET imaging as new PET centres are installed world wide. To address the problem, the Division of Imaging Sciences, runs a MRes/MSc course "Radiopharmaceutics and PET Radiochemistry", with the aim of training graduate chemists and pharmacists for employment and research in the radiochemistry associated with nuclear medicine and PET. More info.
    • Medical Imaging Sciences MRes - The Medical Imaging Sciences MRes aims to provide graduates of chemistry,physics, computing, mathematics, biology, pharmacy or medicine, with advanced training in the imaging field. Students have access to state-of–the art preclinical and clinical imaging facilities, and carry out two four month research projects within the Imaging Sciences’ Wellcome/EPSRC Medical Engineering Centre. The programme is intended mainly as preparation for a PhD, but also serves as training for employment in hospitals and industry. More info
    • Intercalated BSc in Radiological Sciences; for medical students (MBBS)- This is an optional third year course for Kings College London medical and dental students, providing an insight into modern medical imaging technology and its uses. More info
    • Doctoral Training Programme in Medical and Biomedical Imaging which is offering studentships starting September 2010. The studentships are funded by an MRC capacity building award, MRC CASE studentships, EPSRC CASE studentships and EPSRC Doctoral Training Grant.
  • University College London has a Doctoral Training Programme in Medical and Biomedical Imaging which is offering studentships starting September 2010. The studentships are funded by an MRC capacity building award, MRC CASE studentships, EPSRC CASE studentships and EPSRC Doctoral Training Grant.
  • University of Aberdeen offers an MSc and PgDip in Medical Imaging. The specialities of this course include Nuclear Medicine with its variety of scanning methods, including teaching in the Department's John Mallard Scottish PET Centre with its cyclotron and positron emission tomographic scanner, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Ultrasound, etc. More info
  • University of Birmingham offers two relevant programmes.
    • MRes in Brain Imaging and Cognitive Neuroscience. This programme is designed to provide experience of appropriate research skills, coupled with knowledge of the broader theoretical context of contemporary interdisciplinary research. It equips you with skills for further research study or work in the field of cognitive neuroscience, particularly brain imaging analysis. More info.
    • MSc/PhD in Physical Sciences of Imaging in the Biomedical Sciences. An interdisciplinary programme, that draws on skills and expertise from across the spectrum of science, engineering and medicine at Birmingham. It is based in the Doctoral Training Centre for Physical Sciences of Imaging in the Biomedical Sciences, set up through an EPSRC award to train high quality engineering and physical science graduate students in a multidisciplinary environment More info.
  • University of Cambridge - In vivo Biology and Medicine Integrated Doctoral Training programme. The programme theme emphasises research in metabolic physiology, neuroscience and developmental biology. Most of the investigators in this programme are developing and using advanced imaging strategies to open new windows into basic biological problems. These new in vivo approaches rely on the interplay of technological advances in physics, chemistry and biology and are enabling scientists to see what is happening inside the body and the brain of living organisms at unprecedented levels of detail, and helping clinicians to find the foci and causes of, and effective treatments for, various disease states. More info.
  • University of Dundee - MSc in Medical Imaging. This MSc programme is intended to provide a Masters-level postgraduate education in the knowledge, skills and understanding of engineering design of advanced medical and biotechnology products and systems. Students will also acquire a working knowledge of the clinical environment to influences their design philosophy. More info
  • University of EdinburghMSc in Quantitative Cell and Molecular Imaging An MSc programme that intendeds to provide a Masters-level postgraduate education in bioimaging More info.
  • University of Kent - MSc in BioMedical Imaging (BMI). The BMI MSc is a one-year full-time taught course. In addition, some of the modules can be taken individually. This course prepares graduates from large varieties of disciplines for a career in biomedical imaging, medical image analysis, or in the application of medical imaging within their original professional field. It provides a solid grounding in advanced medical imaging systems including up-to-date coverage of commercially relevant topics. It develops a range of skills that are highly sought after by employers. It also prepares graduates for research in medical image computing and its clinical applications. More info
  • University of Leeds
    • MSc in Medical Imaging. Combining clinical applications with the underlying science and technology of image formation, these research-led programmes provide masters level training for those wishing to become medical imaging specialists. They are not intended to train people to operate imaging equipment but rather to give them an insight into the scientific basis of the process, how this is realised through existing and emerging technologies and the optimal use of the various techniques. The inclusion of clinical applications into the course allows an insight into wider issues such as the management and effective deployment of imaging facilities, and how medical imaging choices may be improved. The courses are not clinical and do not involve contact with patients or the clinical interpretation of images. The programme encourages students to develop ideas on the best possible use of the range of modern imaging technologies, to maximise clinical effectiveness and patient benefit More info.
    • MSc in Biomedical Sciences – module on bioimaging. This module covers electron and light microscopy, with an extensive practical element featuring immuno staining of mammalian cells and image both fixed and live cells using confocal and deconvolution techniques. There is also some image analysis work using image J – again on mammalian cells and more recently plant cells. More info
  • University of Manchester – Biomedical Imaging Institute (BII) offers postgraduate taught courses, undergraduate courses and postgraduate research training,
    • Physics and Computing in Medicine and Biology (MSc) - Run by the Imaging Sciences Research Group, this programme provides an excellent grounding in medical physics and computing and has units of particular relevance to biomedical imaging.
    • Cognitive Brain Imaging (MSc) - Run by the School of Psychological Sciences, this is a pioneering new course designed to prepare individuals for various careers in functional neuroimaging. This cutting-edge one year full-time Masters is unique in the UK in its focus on the use of imaging methods (MRI, fMRI, PET and EEG) and advanced image analysis to provide insights into brain function and behaviour in health and disease.
  • University of NottinghamMSc in Biological Photography and Imaging Masters. This MSc is ideal for students wishing to pursue a career in professional imaging. The study programme incorporates the areas of science, imaging (both industrial and media production), research and communication. The professional imager is vital to modern commerce and industry, and the development of these skills offers the integration of science technology and the commercial application More info
  • University of OxfordMRC Capacity Studentships in Biological and Medical Imaging and Physiological Sciences More info.
  • University of Southampton - Transmission Electron Microscopy Course. The course is intended to train participants in the understanding and application of transmission electron microscopy (TEM) in the biomedical sciences. Participants are trained in methods of sample preparation, embedding, section cutting and staining using their own samples, the principles and operation of the TEM and presentation of images (including electronic presentation). In addition, participants will acquire the skills to analyse and present data, and be aware of the role, importance and relevance of TEM in biological research. Advanced Light Microscopy Course. The course is intended to train participants in the understanding and application of advanced techniques in light microscopy (LM) in the biomedical sciences. Participants will be given theoretical and practical training in a variety of LM imaging techniques including brightfield, phase contrast interference contrast, polarising, fluorescence, time lapse and confocal microscopy and will then acquire a portfolio of images from a range of microscopes using both pre-prepared specimens and ones that they prepare themselves. In addition, participants will acquire the skills in analysing, processing and presenting still and video LM data, and be aware of the role, importance and relevance of light microscopy in biological research. More info



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