Case study: Vaanathi Sundaresan
Vaanathi’s interest in biomedical imaging arose from the knowledge that few people in rural parts of India have access to medical check-ups or screening procedures that would be considered routine in the developed world. People are unlikely even to recognise the importance of screening which can assist in earlier diagnosis and treatment. Vaanathi realised that biomedical imaging might be able to provide an affordable and non-invasive screening solution, which would promote sustainable healthcare delivery.
This insight led Vaanathi to undertake a Master of Science by research in Electrical Engineering in Madras, focussing on retinal image analysis. Her research involved detecting and characterizing the disease signs that occur in retinal fundus images due to various stages of diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration. This in turn motivated her to apply for the course at the CDT in Biomedical Imaging.
Vaanathi valued the opportunity to gain knowledge about various imaging modalities and training in many different skillsets during the first year, from programming languages to good clinical practice. Another great advantage, she feels, is that the CDT allows students to undertake two very different projects in the first year. This gave her the chance to work on MRI as one of her options, a field she knew little about before starting her DPhil.
In the first project with Professor Mark Jenkinson (Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences), Vaanathi used MRI images from brain scans to model the distribution of white matter lesions related to dementia. Her second project was on foetal cardiac analysis in ultrasound images – a challenging area, as the foetal heart at 20 weeks (the time of the routine antenatal scan) is small, and the foetus’s orientation varies. The ultimate aim of this research in the group of Professor Alison Noble (Institute of Biomedical Engineering) is antenatal detection of foetal cardiac anomalies and congenital heart diseases. During her rotation projects, Vaanathi had to use the various skills which formed part of the training she received during the first part of the course, especially high-performance computing. Both projects required the processing and analysis of very large amounts of data by accessing high performance clusters.
Vaanathi found both projects extremely interesting and had difficulty choosing between them. In the end, however, she chose to focus on MRI analysis, as she was keen to learn more about MR physics, MR scanning procedure, different types of MR images and their analysis. The long-term aim of her DPhil research in the group of Professor Mark Jenkinson at the FMRIB Centre is to improve white matter lesion detection and to analyse signs including microbleeds and perivascular spaces related to different brain diseases. These signs, if identified in the early stage, could lead to timely treatment and even prevention of progression of various neurodegenerative diseases. From an imaging point of view, detection and characterization of these signs is highly challenging due to their subtle appearance, low contrast and variation in their sizes.
In future Vaanathi would like to gain exposure to industrial research so that she can learn more about the development of affordable imaging equipment, image analysis software and tools and the feasibility of their implementation in a developing research environment. She has been inspired by the collaborations taking place at Oxford between academics, clinicians and industry, and hopes to be able to take this model of working back to India when she completes her DPhil.