Centre for In Vivo Imaging

Staff Profiles

Professor Peter Thelwall

Professor of Magnetic Resonance Physics; Director, Centre for In Vivo Imaging



I am Director of the Centre for In Vivo Imaging, which represents Newcastle University's in vivo imaging portfolio.

My interdisciplianry research team is focused on the development of innovative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy methods to characterise the structure, function and physiology of human tissues and organs through non-invasive and repeatable scans. Our projects span the intersection of magnetic resonance physics, bioscience and clinical research, and aim to develop reliable and valuable quantitative measurements for implementation in clinical research and development into robust tools used in clinical practice.

I lead projects on the development and application of new lung ventilation imaging methods that can quantify lung function and detect changes due to lung disease and the impacts of therapies. We have expertise in developing multinuclear MRI for multisite clinical research studies. We have developed novel 19F-, 13C-, 23Na- and 7Li-MRI methodologies that span preclinical, first in man and patient studies. Our research is driven by clinical need and relies on interdisciplinary team science to link technological expertise with key biological questions relevant to human health and the diagnosis and treatment of disease processes.

  • BSc (Hons) - University of Nottingham - 1995
  • PhD - University of Cambridge - 1999
Positions Held
  • 2020 - present: Professor of Magnetic Resonance Physics, Translational and Clinical Research Institute, Newcastle University
  • 2009 - 2020: Reader in Magnetic Resonance Physics, Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University
  • 2006 - 2009: Lecturer in Magnetic Resonance Physics, Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University
  • 2000 - 2006: Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Neuroscience, University of Florida

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Advanced MRI methodologies for better measurement of structure, function and metabolism in health disease

We develop non-invasive and radiation-free methods to assess the structure, function and metabolic processes in human health and disease. We use a wide range of conventional MRI scan methods to make quantitative measurements of anatomy, microstructure and tissue physiology, and have expertise in developing multinuclear MR methods for clinical research that can bring novel measurements to the study of disease processes and the effects of therapies.

Imaging lung ventilation properties by 19F-MRI of inhaled tracer gases

We are developing new methods to image lung ventilation properties, using 19F-MRI of MR-visible gases that can safely be inhaled. Our methods provide quantitative measures of regional lung function, and have potential to scale to use in clinical practice. The lung function measurement in current clinical use have limited or no information on how lung function varies across the lungs, and so early detection of disease processes or progression of disease can be difficult to detect. By producing 3D images of ventilation properties over the entire lung we can detect subtle, regional changes that are a precursor to more serious lung disease, or make earlier detection of improvements in lung function in response to therapy.

Our studies of patients with asthma and COPD have demonstrated the potential and capabilities of our methods, and current studies are testing the ability to make early and accurate detection of tissue rejection processes in lung transplant recipients, and adapt lung cancer radiotherapy planning to minimise side-effects on remaining lung after radiotherapy treatment.

our interdisciplinary research team brings together physicists, bioscientists, clinical scientists and clinicians to demonstrate the clinical utilities of these new lung imaging methods, and we work with healthcare and industrial partners to advance our technologies into use in routine clinical practice.

Improving understanding of lithium treatments for bipolar disorder

We are developing advanced scan methods to image the distribution of lithium in patients who take lithium carbonate as treatment for bipolar disorder. Our 7Li-MRI scans allow MR imaging of this pharmaceutical agent in its target organ, allowing direct but non-invasive measurement of how the concentration of lithium varies across the brain and over time. We have established a network of European sites with 7Li-MRI scan capabilities within the R-LiNK initiative, which aims to improve outcomes for patients with bipolar disorders and improve understanding of which factors determine whether a patient will respond well to lithium treatment.

Characterising the altered physiological processes of rare diseases

We design and apply bespoke measurements of tissue metabolic processes to better understand the pathophysiology of rare diseases, combining patient cohorts from rare disease registries with MRI scan methods tailored to functional changes involved in disease progression. We have performed natural history studies to characterise the progression of a range of muscular dystrophies, designed novel 23Na-MRI scan methods to characterise changes in muscle function in muscular dystrophy, and employed 31P- and 13C-MR scans to quantify change in tissue energetics and energy storage in mitochondrial and metabolic disease. These studies require an interplay of custom MR scanner hardware, advanced MR scan acquisition methods, strong engagement with rare disease patient cohorts, custom data analyses, and effective interdisciplinary teamwork to link the development and application of advanced imaging biomarkers with key clinical needs in the development of better understanding and treatment of rare diseases.


PhD supervision

My research team includes research students enrolled in the Faculty of Medical Science PhD programme

Masters-level teaching

I contribute to the NHS Modernising Scientific Careers Clinical Sciences MSc programmes :

  • Module lead for "MPY8011: Imaging with non-ionising radiation 1" - Medical Physics MSc programme
  • Module lead for "MPY8012: Imaging with non-ionising radiation 2" - Medical Physics MSc programme
  • Lecturer for "MPY8001: Introduction to Medical Physics" - Medical Physics MSc programme
  • Lecturer for "MPY8011: Imaging with non-ionising radiation 1" - Medical Physics MSc programme
  • Lecturer for "MPY8012: Imaging with non-ionising radiation 2" - Medical Physics MSc programme
  • Lecturer for "CRV8011: Respiratory and Sleep Science 1" - Respiratory and Sleep Science MSc programme

Undergraduate research teaching

I host research projects placements for Newcastle University Biomedical Sciences BSc students. Students join my team at the Newcastle Magnetic Resonance Centre for a 10 week full time MRI research project, with the aim of achieving valuable advancement in translational MR research with co-authorship in resultant publications.

Tutor to undergraduate students

I am personal tutor for the Biomedical Sciences BSc programme, providing pastoral support to undergraduate students.