The Norwegian Molecular Imaging Infrastructure (NORMOLIM) is a national infrastructure for biomedical imaging and a node in Euro-BioImaging ERIC, the European research infrastructure for imaging technologies in biology and medicine.
NORMOLIM offers open access for Norwegian and European researchers with state-of-the-art equipment, high competence and long experience for in-vivo biomedical imaging with MRI, PET, ultrasound and in vivo optical imaging with special focus on methods for molecular imaging in in vivo in animal models.
Imaging technologies are central to the biology and medicine of the future. They are important for creating new knowledge in biotechnology, molecular biology, physiology, understanding of disease processes and the development of new treatment methods. Methods for molecular imaging in vivo in animal models constitute an important link for the transfer of knowledge from biomedical basic research to new diagnostic tools, treatment methods and biomarkers that can improve patient treatment. Therefore, it is common to call these technologies and methods preclinical imaging.
Within such in-vivo imaging, there is rapid development of technology and methods. The equipment is expensive and with many advanced possibilities and applications, and it is therefore a great challenge to always be able to offer the researchers access to the best and most advanced imaging methods as well as the best knowledge and expertise for optimal adaptation to users' various research questions and projects. With its dual role as national infrastructure and node in Euro-BioImaging, NORMOLIM is well equipped to meet these challenges.
NORMOLIM integrates the best environments in Norway for this type of infrastructure and is physically located at three sites: in Trondheim (NTNU - Norwegian University of Science and Technology), in Oslo (Oslo University Hospital - Ullevål) and Bergen (University of Bergen).
We want to present two examples of the research performed - both are method development with great innovation potential - and from brain and heart research, respectively:
? At the Trondheim site, the development of a general method that can provide a significantly better effect of drug treatments for brain diseases. The example also shows the importance of being able to use many different technologies and a wide range of expertise in the same infrastructure to achieve the best possible result for research and innovation.
? At the Oslo site development of new MRI method to evaluate how drugs and other treatments improve heart function. The example also shows how an innovative method developed in animal-experimental research can be transferred to clinical use on patients.
The first example: The NORMOLIM site in Trondheim has specialized equipment to perform MRI-guided focused ultrasound experiments (FUS). This technique utilizes MRI's excellent soft tissue contrast capability to guide the delivery of focused ultrasound to the area of disease (f.ex. cancer) with a precision of the order of millimeters. A study published in 2021 examined whether the method could improve the delivery of liposomes (a carrier molecule for drugs) that only pass the Blood-Brain-Barrier where FUS is applied. The hypothesis is that when FUS only cover the diseased tissue the method significantly increases drug efficiency and reduces side effects. The study showed that there was a 40% increase in accumulation of the targeted liposome when FUS was used, compared to without. Confocal microscopy was also used to hypothesize whether the distribution of the liposomes at the cellular level is as expected.
This project is an excellent example of the interdisciplinary opportunities that exist within the NORMOLIM site in Trondheim (combines MRI, Ultrasound and optical methods and combines expertise in imaging techniques with expertise in molecular biology).
The other example: At NORMOLIM's site in Oslo, advanced methods have been developed to examine heart muscle function. One of these is Tissue Phased Mapping, TPM, with spatial precision of app. 0,4 mm in plane and 1,0-1,5 mm through-plane. In 2021, a study was published in which 4D continuous velocity maps covering the entire left ventricle were reconstructed using mathematical models, and it was possible to re-register the structure and function of the heart. This provides very valuable insight since the function of the heart is very heterogeneous. By being able to link structure and function, one can get closer to how molecular mechanisms are connected to heart muscle function.
NORMOLIM's site in Oslo now uses this technique to understand how regional function is changed in the treatment of post-infarction heart failure. In addition, the technique is being transferred from preclinical scanners to clinical trials, and the benefit is now being validated in patients who have been accepted for heart transplantation.
Imaging technologies are core disciplines of tomorrows biology and medicine. They are important for enabling new knowledge in biotechnology, molecular biology, physiology, disease process, and new therapies.
The NORMOLIM infrastructure has been established to focus on imaging technologies and methods in the area of in-vivo molecular imaging; limited to in-vivo imaging in animal model systems (experimental models of disease and transgenic mice/rats). This research area is an important link for translation between breakthroughs in basic biomedical research and new technology and methods that can improve patient management and outcome and obtain a sustainable
NORMOLIM is a distributed infrastructure between three facilities (in Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim) for molecular imaging at a high international level. All three have access to
a wide range of imaging modalities and technologies for in-vivo molecular imaging (MR, PET, ultrasound, in-vivo optical imaging etc.). These facilities have differences in focus regarding medical and biomedical research areas and differences in advanced methods, special technologies, special applications, special competence and scientific experience. NORMOLIM has
unified these facilities to provide a critical mass for enhancing their collective impact, and NORMOLIM has established a multi-site service package that fit a wide range of needs from national and international users.
A common trait for all imaging modalities is rapid development of new technology, methods and applications. With expensive and technologically demanding equipment, a key challenge is to help researchers and industry to have access to the best possible imaging tools at any time as well as the
knowledge and competence to tailor them to the users research questions and projects. NORMOLIM meets this challenge by providing open access to a state-of-the-art (and beyond) imaging infrastructure and advanced competence for optimal use of the imaging tools.