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Quantitative MRI measurements to probe brain physiology

   Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

  ,  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can produce exquisite pictures of the brain. It is used to diagnose a variety of neurological diseases. Current work is transforming this technology from a machine that takes pictures into a measurement device that can take precise and accurate measurements of brain physiology. This can reveal disease-related changes in the brain that are not immediately visible from looking at the picture.

As physicists we can build computational models describing how the MRI signal changes as a function of underlying physiological parameters. For example, following the injection of a contrast agent the signal will change over time according to the degree of leakage of that agent through the blood-brain barrier. We fit these models to the MRI data from each pixel in the brain image to produce a quantitative map of the physiological parameter. It is important that we know how accurate and precise the estimate is before it can be used to study brain physiology and how it may be altered in disease.

We can also build biophysical models describing how the chemical composition (e.g. oxygenation or neurotransmitter concentration) of the brain changes as a function of changes in neural activity, which can be detected with functional MRI or MR spectroscopy. For example, following a neural stimulus (e.g. a picture flashing up on a screen), the concentration of neurotransmitters in the brain can change which will alter the relative height of the peaks in the MR spectrum. We can use these models to understand how the brain changes in response to stimulation.

In this PhD project you will develop new MRI methods to measure neurophysiological properties of the brain. You will work to ensure the measurements are accurate and precise. You will work with biologists or neurologists in application of these imaging measurements to understand fundamental properties of brain function or how the brain is altered in disease.

The ideal candidate will have a first class degree in a highly numerate subject (physics, maths, engineering) with relevant research experience in MRI and a keen interest in the brain.

Entry Requirements

Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a related area/subject. Candidates with previous laboratory experience are particularly encouraged to apply.

How To Apply

For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor. On the online application form select the appropriate subject title.

For international students, we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website”

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 3 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website (View Website).


Nezhad FS, Lea-Carnall CA, Anton A, Jung J, Michou E, Williams SR, Parkes LM, ‘Number of subjects required in common study designs for functional GABA magnetic resonance spectroscopy in the human brain at 3 Tesla’, The European journal of neuroscience 51 (8), 1784-1793 [2020]

Ben R Dickie, Geoff JM Parker, Laura M Parkes, ‘Measuring water exchange across the blood-brain barrier using MRI’ Progress in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy 116, 19-39 [2020]

Dickie BR, Vandesquille M, Ulloa J, Boutin H, Parkes LM, Parker GJM (joint last author), ‘Non-invasive detection of subtle blood-brain barrier breakdown using water-exchange MRI’ Neuroimage 184 349-358 [2019]

Lea-Carnall C, Trujillo-Barreto N, Montemurro MA, El-Deredy W, Parkes LM ‘Frequency-dependent cortical plasticity: evidence from psychophysics, functional imaging and computational modelling’ 114(33)8871-8876 PNAS Aug [2017]

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