Reflections on the past three years as SINAPSE Director

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be director of this fabulous network that is the best example of research pooling of which I know. SINAPSE began in 2007 under the leadership of its founding director Prof Joanna Wardlaw CBE, followed in 2010 by its longest serving director Prof Dave Wyper. I’m honoured to have succeeded these distinguished colleagues. There are many joys in being involved with SINAPSE and the greatest one is always watching young people embark enthusiastically on their early scientific careers. The SINAPSE Annual Scientific Meeting goes from strength to strength and gives PhD students an ideal opportunity to present their work in front of an interested and friendly audience that will ask informed questions, but will not bite. It is a particular joy when two early career researchers decide to get married, which has happened more than once in SINAPSE!

When I took over as SINAPSE Director we were midway through a period of reduced funding, that really only allows SINAPSE to maintain its network functions and keep the research imaging community in Scotland together. However, despite its shoestring budget – and largely due to the seriously impressive organisational abilities of our lead scientist Dr Kristin Flegal – SINAPSE achieves so much more. I will only name a few examples here but there are many. The Industrial Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research in Digital Diagnostics (iCAIRD) is a Scotland-wide project funded by Innovate UK and by leading industrial partners Canon Medical Research Europe and Philips Healthcare. SINAPSE was fundamental in the success of this collaborative grant application that will revolutionise how AI is used safely with NHS radiology and pathology data. Scotland is the ideal place in which to conduct such research due to its single NHS, single PACS, unique Community Health Index (CHI) number and network of safe havens. I had to go all the way to Tokyo to confirm just how unique these combined resources are. The MRC-funded PICTURES project, led by Prof Emily Jefferson, addresses radiology data access in a different way and there will be much shared learning from these two large-scale projects that are working closely together.

During much of 2018 and 2019 Kristin and I were working with a group of clinical academics, research scientists and industry partners across Europe on an Innovative Training Network (ITN) proposal that aims to train early career researchers in brain imaging research for the benefit of people with diseases that cause dementia. A refined and highly polished version of Clinically Relevant Analysis of Neuroimaging In Ageing (CRANIA) is currently under review with the European Commission. In the light of Brexit it seemed daft for me to retain UK Principal Investigator status, this was passed to Prof Meike Vernooij at Erasmus MC Rotterdam in a great example of collaborative European working. Internationally, SINAPSE researchers are also addressing global challenges of the impact of diabetes and of cognitive ageing in India – among many other international collaborations – ensuring that we don’t get too parochial about imaging research.

Over the past 18 months there has been an external review of research pooling in Scotland led by Prof Louise Heathwaite. Her recommendations were published late last year. We are confident that SINAPSE meets these and is interdisciplinary, industry facing, international and working effectively in the research landscape of Scotland. We are now in the phase of helping the Scottish Funding Council visualise how best to support Scottish research to address the needs of a sustainable society. I think we are more than fit for these challenges and I am delighted that Dr Jennifer Macfarlane has accepted the role as the fourth SINAPSE Director and will steer us forward into the future.


Prof Alison Murray served as Director of SINAPSE from April 2017 through March 2020