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New facility opens to transform brain research in South West

Ann James, Chief Executive of University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, and Professor Judith Petts, CBE, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Plymouth.

Left to right 1/ Dr Gary Smerdon - DDRC Healthcare - Scientist, Researcher, CEO and Managing Director. 2/ Professor Stephen Hall - Human Neuroimaging - Director: Brain Research & Imaging Centre (BRIC) 3/ Ann James - Chief Executive - Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust 4/ Professor Judith Petts CBE - Vice-Chancellor – University of Plymouth 5/ Keith Walker - University of Plymouth - Associate Head of School (Health Professions) 6/ Professor Robert Fern - Translational Neurobiology – University of Plymouth -Peninsula Medical School

Credit: University of Plymouth - Left to right: Dr Gary Smerdon, DDRC Healthcare, Scientist, Researcher, CEO and Managing Director, Professor Stephen Hall , Human Neuroimaging. Director: Brain Research & Imaging Centre (BRIC), Ann James, Chief Executive, Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, Professor Judith Petts CBE, Vice-Chancellor, University of Plymouth, Keith Walker, University of Plymouth, Associate Head of School (Health Professions), Professor Robert Fern, Translational Neurobiology, University of Plymouth, Peninsula Medical School.

A new state-of-the-art facility to advance brain research in the South West and beyond has opened at Plymouth Science Park.

The Brain Research & Imaging Centre (BRIC) is home to seven cutting-edge human neuroimaging research laboratories to help better understand brain activity and human behaviour.

The multi-million pound project is a unique collaboration between University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHP), the University of Plymouth, the research charity, and DDRC Healthcare. It forms part of the expansion of the Hyperbaric Medical Centre, providing improved facilities for research and the treatment of scuba divers, along with delivery of advanced medical training.

BRIC was officially opened yesterday (09 February) by Ann James, Chief Executive of University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, and Professor Judith Petts, CBE, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Plymouth.

How will BRIC research benefit people?

The facility is home to the most advanced front-line 3-Tesla MRI scanner in the South West, which is already being used by the University to enhance research into conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and autism, and by UHPNT for its neurological research to improve patient outcomes.

Dr Elsa Fouragnan, Head of BRIC’s Brain Stimulation Lab, has recently produced research that sheds early light on how ultrasound can alter decision-making behaviour, and Lead of the Motor Control Lab, Professor Jon Marsden, has also started a collaboration with global pharmaceutical company, Roche to test an app to help people with multiple sclerosis.

The work taking place in the other BRIC laboratories ranges from pain perception to computational modelling, allowing detailed investigation into a variety of neurological conditions. BRIC also provides new teaching space for postgraduate students in human neuroscience.

Professor Stephen Hall, Director of BRIC and a leading researcher in Human Neuroimaging, said: “COVID-19 posed a range of challenges to this project, so I am very grateful to the team for the exceptional effort they put in to getting the facility completed and operational.

“BRIC has immediately transformed brain research in the region and beyond, with international collaborations utilising the technology we have here to shed light on complex conditions to benefit patients.

“The addition of BRIC, with its cutting-edge facilities and leading expertise, will support the University’s ambition to become one of the most impactful brain research organisations in the world. We are proud to be working with DDRC Healthcare and UHP to make this work possible.”

Ann James, Chief Executive of University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, said: “BRIC is one of several exciting joint ventures between UHP and the University to embrace innovation in health care. The new facility will provide patients from across the region with even more access to state-of-the-art imaging technology, and we look forward to the benefits the research opportunities will bring.”

Professor Gary Smerdon, Chief Executive Officer of DDRC Healthcare, said: “Having BRIC at the core of our expansion has opened our research and training to new international collaborators and customers. BRIC is a true collaboration that consolidates our many years of working with the University of Plymouth and the NHS. The excellence it brings to our research will move us to the forefront of understanding the effects of oxygen, nitrogen and pressure on the brain.”

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