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Novel MRI scanning method

Non-invasive clinical assessment of muscle motor unit function.

The Challenge

In an ageing population there is a need for screening tools to determine muscle health status. They should also allow for practical interventions to extend independence.

Screening is also of interest to professional athletes. They rely on optimal muscle for performance and injury avoidance.

Gold standard neurophysiology techniques like electromyography (EMG) are invasive electrode-based methods.

The techniques cause discomfort for patients. They don’t allow for examination of a large cross-section of muscles. This increases procedure time and limits diagnostic accuracy.

Furthermore, many neuromuscular diseases do not have a diagnostic test which can provide early detection, or a biomarker to monitor longitudinal disease progression. This prevents early use of life-prolonging therapies and timely clinical trial recruitment.

The Solution - Motor Unit MRI (MUMRI)

Our researchers have developed an entirely new type of MRI application. It offers a non-invasive and pain-free view of human muscle in an unprecedented way. It can be used on any modern MRI scanner.

The entire limb is imaged at once so the properties of hundreds of motor units are captured within a few minutes. This offers an entirely non-invasive and highly sensitive means of diagnosing a wide range of neuromuscular diseases.

Motor Unit MRI (MUMRI) aims to improve our understanding of changes to the neuromuscular system associated with ageing, sarcopenia and other neuromuscular diseases.

We are trialling MUMRI in pioneering clinical studies for:

  • motor neurone disease (MND)
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • spinal muscular dystrophy/atrophy
  • age-related sarcopenia.

Published preliminary findings have shown MUMRI can readily determine the frequency, distribution and size of fasciculating motor units without the need for electrical stimulation.

Whilst currently scanning lower limbs, this technology is being developed for other large muscle groups. Our aims is to escalate to an option of a ‘full body scan’.

The Opportunity

We are interested in out-licensing the technology and/or identifying collaborative industrial partners.

The method has the potential to be applied to both human and veterinary medicine.

We have a particular interest in:

  • expertise to develop the medical software/graphical display
  • expand the range of applications to new clinical fields


Birkbeck, M.G., Blamire, A.M., Whittaker, R.G., Sayer, A.A. and Dodds, R.M. (2021) 'The role of novel motor unit magnetic resonance imaging to investigate motor unit activity in ageing skeletal muscle', J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle, 12(1), pp. 17-29.

Birkbeck, M.G., Heskamp, L., Schofield, I.S., Blamire, A.M. and Whittaker, R.G. (2020) 'Non-invasive imaging of single human motor units', Clinical Neurophysiology, 131(6), pp. 1399-1406.

Intellectual Property Status

Title: System for Processing Images to Detect Properties of Skeletal Muscle
Application no: PCT/GB2016/053152
Filing Date: 31/05/2018
Applicant: University of Newcastle upon Tyne


Quote: KT180417

Dr Lynda Speed

Business Development Manager