Marie Curie Fellowships


MR Research Centre

Department of Radiology, University Hospital, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven


Marie Curie Training Site
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)  

The MR research Centre of the Radiology Department of the K.U.Leuven University Hospital is a EU Marie Curie training site (Neuroradiology: functional MRI) of the European Association of Radiology Advanced Doctoral Studies Research Programme (together with the Radiology Departments of the Uiniversities in Rome, Aachen, Lund and Stockholm).

Doctoral researchers, below 35 years of age, from radiology departments in EU member countries or candidate countries are invited to apply for a Marie Curie Host Fellowship (Training Site) to spend min. 3 to max. 12 months of research in Leuven, in the field of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).

The training programme is directed to postgraduate researchers pursuing doctoral studies in an area similar to that of the Training Site. The stay at the Marie Curie Training Site should be directly relevant to the doctoral studies pursued and must be recognized as an integral part of the doctoral studies in writing by the supervisor of the doctoral studies in the home university.



 The Marie Curie doctoral research training area at the Leuven MR Research Centre of the Radiology Department is in neurofunctional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a recent technique for the non-invasive detection of neuronal activity in the brain following motor/sensory/cognitive stimulation.

The technique is applied not only in basic neurophysiological research but also in clinical investigations, such as the mapping of eloquent cortex prior to neurosurgery, the follow-up of the effects of medication on cognitive and motosensory behaviour in patients (schizophrenia, Alzheimer, epilepsy), and the localization of the epileptic focus in patients. The fMRI technique has a number of distinct advantages compared with the PET technique, such as no radioactive tracer injection and superior spatial (less than 3mm) and temporal resolution (down to about 1s with event-related fMRI).

The Radiology Department of the University of Leuven was one of the first European centres (1994) engaged in fMRI for both basic neurophysiological research and clinical investigations. It has acquired a large experience in both fields and has benefitted from the unique cross-fertilization between both domains.

The participating fellows will thus be offered a training in one of the cutting-edge and most promising non-invasive diagnostic functional imaging techniques. They will be integrated in the multidisciplinary research group consisting of physicians, radiologists, neurosurgeons, engineers and physicists, and they will be assigned their own research topic in one of the on-going research projects.

At the end of their stay, the fellows should have completed a (small) research project for inclusion in their doctoral work, and they should be sufficiently trained to start or help to start up fMRI research at their home institution.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a recent technique which provides a non-invasive (no radioactive tracers, no contrast agent, no electrodes) imaging of neuronal activity in the brain. The non-invasive character opens the way for a full exploration of the human brain and is the reason for the enormous growth of and interest for this technique both for basic research and clinical applications.

The technique is based on the BOLD (Blood Oxygen Level Dependent) effect. Upon activation by motor/sensory/cognitive stimuli, the oxygen supply to the nerve cells is increased. The elevated concentration of the non-magnetic oxyhemoglobine vs. the magnetic deoxyhemoglobine in the capillary bed around the activated cells results in an increase of the NMR signal in the corresponding voxels, which allows for a direct mapping of the neuronal activation using appropriate MR imaging techniques. The MR signal increase being very small (a few percent or less), a repetitive image acquisition scheme (activation/no activation) is required in order to increase the signal-to-noise ratio and powerful statistical processing is applied for extraction of the weak but significant activation signals.

Since the signal increase relies entirely on the increase of the endogenous oxyhemoglobine, there is no need for injection of radioactive tracers like in PET, the standard method for functional brain imaging until recently. Moreover fMRI offers a superior spatial (3 mm or better) and temporal resolution (10 ŕ 30 s). The latter is now being improved using event-related fMRI (down to about 1 s), a technique developed the last few years which is able to map transient responses following "single" stimuli, a situation which reflects more adequately most neurophysiological processes. The latter technique is still in its infancy but opens again unlimited possibilities well beyond the reach of the "block design" fMRI technique.

The training site

 1. The institution

The Department of Radiology is part of the University Hospital (1800 beds) of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (30.000 students, all faculties), located in Leuven (85.000 inhabitants), Belgium. The University is the largest one in Belgium.

The University Hospital and the Medical School (1000 students) of the University are located on the Gasthuisberg campus, just outside the city.

2. The training site

The radiology Department (Head: Prof. G. Marchal) comprises 20 staff members and 50 radiology trainees. All MR research in the Radiology Department is concentrated in the MR Research Centre, with 3 senior staff members, 8 doctoral students, 4 postdoctoral students, 1 technician and 1 secretary.

 3. Activities of the training site

The MR Research Centre ( performs research on new MR imaging techniques with particular applications in cardiac (functional) imaging, MR angiography, lung perfusion MRI, integrated abdominal imaging, MR contrast media, minimal invasive therapy and finally also MR spectroscopy. There is a strong and benefitial interaction between all research projects and fellows sharing the same equipment, periphery and computer network.

The MR Research Centre has developed a strong activity in fMRI since the early days (1994) of the technique and has been able to accumulate over the years an impressive know-how based on a large amount of basic investigations and clinical examinations.
The main research fields in basic neurophysiology concentrate on human motor activation and the preparation of complex tasks and the synchronization of hand and foot movements, on human vision and all its attributes (motion, shape, speed, 2D and 3D perception…), on memory and other high cognitive tasks.
In clinical fMRI applications, the research and development work focuses mainly on the mapping of eloquent cortex for surgery planning (biopsies, resection, …). A standardized battery of tests has been developed to map a maximum of cortical activity in the patient examination time available and includes sensorimotor activation and stimulation of speech, listening and memory areas. Further work includes lateralization of the epileptic focus in TLE, schizophrenia, urological and pain applications.

Dedicated peripheral equipment for fMRI experiments has been developed and includes projection of computer generated visual stimuli, scenes or instructions on a screen in front of the subject in the MR scanner, nonmagnetic hand pushbuttons for feedback, bytebar device for imobilization, goggles for monitoring eye movements inside the MR scanner,

4. The research facilities
The facilities for fMRI research at the MR Research Centre comprise a 1.5 T whole-body Siemens, state-of-the-art Sonata MR scanner and a 1.5 T whole-body Philips state-of-the-art ACS NT Gyroscan MR scanner, dedicated to fMRI research.

The MR scanners are fully equipped for fMRI experiments: projector for visual presentations, earphone system for audio presentation, push-buttons for manual feedback and task control, non-magnetic goggles for eye movement control and registration, byte bar set-up for subject immobilization, audio equipment for the generation of words or instructions. All stimuli are computerized or recorded on audio CDs and their presentation fully automated and synchronized with the MR scanner image acquisition.

A network of powerful (Silicon Graphics and PCs) computers has been set up to process the image data: motion correction, distortion corrections, registration to a standard template and coordinate system (Talairach), statistical processing for extraction of the activation foci out of the noise, 2D and 3D anatomical visualisation of the activation data, and cortical surface flattening.

The processing of the data makes use of SPM99 (FIL, London). Matlab scripts for the automation of the SPM99 processing have been written and made available on our website with the agreement of the SPM99 authors (FIL).

The research is funded by several sources: National Science Foundation, Medical Fund Queen Elisabeth, Interuniversity Attraction Poles and University Research Fund.

 The training programme

 The fellows participating in the training programme will be integrated in the multidisciplinary fMRI research team and will perform a specific research task within the framework of one of the current research projects, making use of the state-of-the-art fMRI setup of our Department.

The fellows will be trained to perform independently their own research in order to be able to set up or help to set up fMRI research back home.

The training covers the following areas:

1. the use and design of paradigmas tailored to the various applications (for block designs and for event-related experiments)

2. the peripheral experimental set-up for fMRI experiments

3. the use of the appropriate fMR imaging acquisition sequences

4. the processing of the data and the related algorithms and software (motion correction, distortion correction, registration, statistical processing, visualisation

5. the presentation of the data

6. the integration of the data in stereotactic (neuronavigation) setup for neurosurgery.

How to apply

Application and supporting information for a Marie Curie Fellowship should be completed and sent directly to the Leuven Marie-Curie Training Site Coordinator, Prof. Paul Van Hecke, at the Radiology Department.


Download Application Form (MSWord format)


Candidates meeting the eligibility criteria will be selected on the basis of :

            - their scientific ability

            - the compatibility of the proposed research with the needs of the host institution

Eligibility Criteria


Fellows must be nationals of a EU member state or an associated state ((Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Republic of Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia) , or be able to provide proof of having resided in a Member State for at least the last five years prior to their selection by the host. Fellows should ensure that they are able to fulfil the immigration and visa requirements for Belgium

Fellows may not carry out their fellowship in the country of their nationality and his/her recent centre of activity. Hosts cannot appoint researchers who have carried out their normal activity in the country where the research is going to take place for more than 12 months in the two years immediately prior to their selection by the host. Fellows may not carry out their fellowship at the University of Leuven, if they normally pursue their doctoral studies anywhere in Belgium.

At the time of selection the fellow must be 35 years old or less, with allowances being made for time spent caring for children and for compulsory military or civil service.

Research Experience:
The scheme is directed to postgraduate researchers pursuing doctoral studies in a subject area similar to that of the Training Site. The stay must be directly relevant to the doctoral studies pursued. The stay at the Marie Curie Training Site must be recognised as an integral part of the doctoral studies in writing by the research supervisor of the doctoral studies in the home university

The duration of the fellowship is min. 3 months and max. 12 months.

Financial Support

Fellows will be paid for a return ticket, restricted to economy class air and/or rail fare.

Fellows will receive 1200 Euro/month in mobility allowance.

The Fellow will be given access to research facilities necessary to carry out the research training.

Who and where

Department of Radiology
University Hospital
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Head of the Department :

Prof. Guy Marchal

Marie-Curie Contact Person :

Prof. Paul Van Hecke

Address :

MR Research Centre
Department of Radiology
University Hospital
B-3000 Leuven (Belgium)
Tel : +32 16 34 37 80
Fax : +32 16 34 37 65
e-mail :


European Commission

University of Leuven

City of Leuven

Webpage last updated on 23/2/2001. Author: Stefan Sunaert