The first functional brain mapping facility on the island of Ireland is to be established in Derry.
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster announced a £5.3 million investment package for the advanced research project when she visited the Intelligent Systems Summit 2013 at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus today.
The facility will be the only brain imaging system anywhere in Ireland and only one of a few in Britain to use the recently developed brain imaging modality - Magneto encephalography (MEG) - to measure brain activity.
The specialist equipment, which will be located at the Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC) at Magee, has the potential to position the north west of Ireland as the location for advanced neurological drug evaluation and testing for global pharmaceutical companies.
The multidisciplinary brain imaging research project will be carried out by the ISRC, in conjunction with the Biomedical Sciences Research Institute and Institute of Nursing and Health Research at UU and the Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC).
ISRC Director Professor Martin McGinnity said the Functional Brain Mapping Facility is a major boost for the ISRC and its ongoing efforts to understand the complexities of the human brain and research into neurological disorders, including depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
He said: “There is a clear need for a better understanding of how these begin and evolve. Such knowledge could lead to effective diagnostic tools for early diagnosis and more effective prevention or intervention measures.
“If we can understand better how the brain works, the impact on society will be enormous, both in terms of our health and employment in health related industries.
“Today we are closer than ever to understanding the operation and complexities of the human brain, in health and illness. As a result of this initiative, our researchers will be able to make a greater contribution to this great challenge, alongside the EU (via its Human Brain Project) and the USA (via its BRAIN - Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) project.”
Professor McGinnity added: “Our vision is to exploit the capabilities of functional brain mapping to perform excellent research in neurological research and commercialisation.”
Announcing the investment, Minister Foster said: “The new brain mapping facility will strengthen the R&D infrastructure in Northern Ireland and has the potential to move us closer to being able to diagnose and treat some forms of mental illness, which is a truly worthwhile objective.
“Our Programme for Government recognises the importance of innovation and R&D in rebuilding and rebalancing the local economy. However, innovation on its own is only part of the picture. Commercialisation of research is what drives business and economic success.
“This project is an excellent example of an academic research project that has sound commercial application. Over the next 10 years it is anticipated that it will generate significant revenue streams.”