The usual method of visualizing brain structure utilizes a technique most of us are familiar with called
. However, it is not sensitive enough to reveal the biological changes in the brain of Parkinson’s patients and is primarily used to eliminate other possible diagnoses.
What is the New Method that Detects Parkinson’s Disease Early?
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) researchers, led by Professor Aviv Mezer, realized that the cellular changes in Parkinson’s could be revealed by adapting a related technique known as quantitative MRI (qMRI). Their method has enabled them to look at microstructures within the part of the deep brain known as the striatum – an organ known to deteriorate during the progress of Parkinson’s disease.
Using a novel method of analysis developed by Mezer’s doctoral student, Elior Drori, biological changes in the cellar tissue of the striatum were revealed. Moreover, they demonstrated that these changes were associated with the early stages of Parkinson’s and patients’ movement dysfunction. Their findings were published today in the prestigious journal Science Advances.
qMRI achieves its sensitivity by taking several MRI images using different excitation energies – rather than taking the same photograph in different colors of lighting.
The HU researchers used their qMRI analysis to reveal changes in the tissue structure within distinct striatum regions. The structural sensitivity of these measurements could only have been previously achieved in laboratories examining the brain cells of patients post-mortem. Not an ideal situation for detecting early disease or monitoring the efficacy of a drug!
“When you don’t have measurements, you don’t know what is normal and what is abnormal brain structure and what is changing during the progress of the disease,” explained Mezer.
The new information will facilitate early diagnosis of the disease and provide “markers” for monitoring the efficacy of future drug therapies. “What we have discovered,” he continued, “is the tip of the iceberg.”
It is a technique they will now extend to investigate microstructural changes in other brain regions. Furthermore, the team is now developing qMRI into a tool that can be used in a clinical setting. Mezer anticipates that is about 3-5 years down the line.
Drori further suggests that this type of analysis will enable the identification of subgroups within the population suffering from Parkinson’s disease – some of whom may respond differently to some drugs than others. Ultimately, he sees this analysis as “leading to personalized treatment, allowing future drug discoveries with each person receiving the most appropriate drug”.