Information for Research Participants

When it comes to mental illness, it is difficult to fix what we can’t see. 

Unlike cancer or diabetes – where a tumor is visible, or a simple blood test can map patient’s symptoms to their blood sugar levels – depression has traditionally had no such indicators. 

Through world-class brain imaging, however, we are beginning to unlock the mysteries of mental illness, and transform the way we currently diagnose and treat mental health disorders. 

Volunteers who participate in brain imaging research studies play a critical role in helping our research scientists to arrive at cutting-edge discoveries that can help inform better personalized, more effective mental health treatment, and stop the suffering. 

Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about participation in research studies at The Royal’s Brain Imaging Centre. 

What kind of research is conducted at The Royal’s Brain Imaging Centre?

Research studies conducted at The Royal’s Brain Imaging Centre pertain to many different areas of mental health research including depression, suicide prevention, military mental health (e.g., PTSD), the heart and brain connection, and sleep disorders (e.g., insomnia).

The people who take part in these studies are volunteers. They may be patients with a specific disease, or healthy people wanting to contribute to the advancement of medical knowledge.

Who conducts clinical studies?

The people who carry out clinical studies are called principal investigators (PIs). 

Members of their team could include other scientists, study coordinators, nurses, physicians, and research trainees.

How do I participate in a research study at The Royal’s Brain Imaging Centre?

Participation in mental health research is always voluntary. 

We encourage you to discuss your potential participation in a research study with your physician before getting involved - especially if it may impact your current treatment plan. 

General information about participation in clinical research studies can be found here.  

What is a PET-MRI machine?

The positron emission tomography (PET) – magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine at The Royal’s Brain Imaging Centre provides researchers with detailed images of the brain. 

MRI technology uses a very strong magnet and radio waves to take detailed pictures of the living brain. There are no known harmful effects from exposure to the magnetic field or radio waves used in MRI. 

PET technology uses a small amount of radioactive drug, or tracer, to create a picture showing the function of a specific process in the living brain. The amount of radiation that people are exposed to during a PET scan is generally quite small, and the risk level is considered to be minimal with no anticipated consequences.

Can I book a scan for myself or a loved one?

No. The type of brain imaging that is conducted during a research study is different from the type of scan that might be ordered by your doctor. 

The use of MRI and/or PET for the purpose of clinical diagnosis or monitoring of many mental health conditions is not yet possible. Researchers are currently exploring how best to apply these techniques to the area of clinical diagnosis and treatment.  

I am participating in a research study and have an appointment booked for a brain scan. Are there any risks involved?

All brain scans at The Royal’s Brain Imaging Centre use MRI imaging. Some studies will also use PET imaging.

MRI risks: The magnet in an MRI scanner is always on. This means that it is always dangerous to walk into the scan room with metal objects. A MRI Technologist will ensure that your safety is not at risk by confirming that you do not have any metal on or in your body before your scan.

PET risks: The amount of radiation that you are exposed to during a PET scan is low and the length of exposure is short. The exposure is generally equivalent to what you would receive in 1-2 years from naturally occurring sources of radiation in the environment. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, there is a risk of radiation exposure to your baby, thus you will be asked to refrain from participating in research involving PET imaging. Please discuss with your study coordinator if you are pregnant, think you might be pregnant, or are breastfeeding.

What should I expect during a brain scan?

The day of your appointment, you will be met at The Royal's Brain Imaging Centre (BIC) by the responsible study coordinator. The study coordinator and the PET/MRI technologist will assist you throughout the scanning procedure. Everyone at the BIC will help to make your experience as pleasant as possible.

We will ask you to remove your clothes, jewellery, piercings, shoes, bra, and underwear and anything in your hair. In other words – anything that could contain metal. You will be provided with a gown and pants that you can change into in a private room.
We will ask you questions from our MRI safety checklist to make sure you don't have any metal on or inside your body. Please answer truthfully and ask us questions if you are unsure about something. 

You will be asked to lie on the scanner bed with your head placed inside a small piece of equipment called a head coil. The scanner bed will then be moved so that your head is centred inside the tunnel of the scanner. The scanner does make loud noises during the scan, so you will be given earplugs and headphones to help reduce the noise levels. 
In addition, you will be able to alert the staff using a ‘call bell’ if you feel at any point that you need to stop the scan. We will work with you, however, to help you feel more comfortable and give you tips for breathing exercises and other ways to make the experience feel less stressful.

The most common reason people feel stressed in the scanner is because of the closed-in space. We do have a mock scanner that you may "practice" with, in order to orient you to the main scanner. The majority of individuals are comfortable after just a few minutes in the scanner. Often, closing your eyes can help you become more comfortable at the beginning of the scan.

Do participants get paid to be part of a study?

Payment is dependent on the individual study. 

You may ask your study coordinator for more information. 

Where is the Brain Imaging Centre located?

The Royal’s Brain Imaging Centre (BIC) is located at 1145 Carling Avenue, on the second floor (Room #2015). Your study coordinator will give you specific instructions on where to meet them on the day of your scan. If you need to reschedule or cancel your appointment please contact the study coordinator as soon as possible.

Directions from the BIC Entrance:
The main entrance to the BIC is through the OSI/BIC entrance at the North side of the main hospital building (rear corner across from the Royal Ottawa Place). If these doors are locked, press the MRI button at the intercom for access. Once inside, follow the signs to the BIC. 

From The Royal's main entrance:
Participants who arrive at the hospital's main entrance will need to go up one floor using the stairs/elevators located directly behind the main reception desk. Once you are on the second floor, follow the wall signs and floor stickers to the BIC.

Do I need to bring my health card to my appointment?

No, your health card is not required. 

Where can I park?

Parking is available in front of the hospital and along the ring road around the hospital. 

Click here for information about parking rates

Your study coordinator will let you know how long you can expect your appointment to be. 

Who do I contact if I have more questions?

If you have any additional questions about study procedures, please contact the study coordinator or Principal Investigator of the study you are participating in. 
Contact information can be found on the study consent form.

If you can't find your study consent form, contact Katie Dinelle, Manager, Brain Imaging Centre (Email:; Tel: 613-722-6521 ext 7421).