There’s a lot happening with medical imaging at Gisborne’s Mātai research centre, headed by Dr Samantha Holdsworth – from brain injury and cardiovascular disease to child wellbeing scans.
Dr Holdsworth is an accomplished and well-published medical physicist, and a pioneer of super-fast, high-resolution scanning methods to help diagnose disease earlier. She has successfully put these methods into clinical practice, leading to better detection of brain disorders and disease, and is now hailed as a global leader in her field.
“While we’re focusing on concussion/mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and cardiovascular research, we also want to advance our understanding of the brain, heart, and body to deliver health, social, and economic benefits regionally and globally,” she says.
Dr Holdsworth grew up near Gisborne and noticed many inequalities with her classmates – the unchecked health issues, the lack of school lunchboxes. Returning to New Zealand after working in the United States, one of her goals is enhancing health outcomes for the Tairāwhiti community, particularly conditions that disproportionately affect Māori, with early detection services.
“Our whānau will have access to advanced equipment and expertise, resulting in earlier diagnosis and treatments. Mātai will offer training, scholarships and future opportunities for our tamariki. We can help detect diseases earlier to help Tairāwhiti overcome some of its poor health statistics.”
Dr Holdsworth has several major research projects at the ready, from concussion and a 10-minute prostate cancer scan, to the “hole in the head” and a child wellbeing scan.
“Better than a hole in the head?” will measure pressure in the brain without the invasive drilling of a hole. Dr Holdsworth and Dr Sarah-Jane Guild (University of Auckland) have been awarded a $959,000 Marsden grant to determine if amplified MRI, a new medical imaging method being developed by Dr Holdsworth and her team of international collaborators, can be used as a non-invasive measure of intracranial pressure. She says this project has the potential to revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of patients with increased intracranial pressure.
Dr Holdsworth is also planning to scan at least 750 seven-year-old Tairāwhiti children from the head to the pelvis as part of a wellbeing study.
“This study will likely be the first of its kind in the world. Acquiring scans over a long period will enable us to understand developmental changes, and how the health of organs relate to each other.
“We’ll collect images of the brain, heart, liver, kidney, and we believe this data will help us to predict disease and disease outcomes and may change the way we manage or treat disease or disorders along the way. We hope this approach may also help us to understand the impact of childhood socio-economic status on brain, heart and vascular health.”
She and her team are also looking at fidgeting, which may be more important than we think. Fidgeting is just one project the institute is supporting under the umbrella of enhancing medical imaging capabilities using advanced software, image-processing, and machine learning.
Stop fidgeting. We’ve all heard adults say that to a child, but it may actually serve a purpose. People with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) tend to fidget, particularly when trying to focus.
Pilot research from a project led by Associate Professor Justin Fernandez of the Auckland Bioengineering Institute in partnership with Mātai and using functional MRI has revealed the first evidence that it may serve a purpose.
Pending funding, Mātai could soon trial novel colour CT scanning technology, courtesy of the MARS Bioimaging facility in Christchurch. Led by Professors Phil and Anthony Butler, MARS Bioimaging could revolutionise broken bone treatment globally.
The MARS scanner focuses on bone, soft-tissue, ligaments and cartilage, and could improve the diagnosis and treatment of orthopaedic injuries. The technology would complement Mātai’s imaging capabilities and research will help with assessing its use in a rural community.