Quantitative MRI helps diagnose early-stage Parkinson's


Thursday, 21 July, 2022

Quantitative MRI helps diagnose early-stage Parkinson's

Researchers at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) have discovered a way to visualise the changes that take place in the brains of Parkinson’s patients, paving the way for earlier diagnosis of a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that eventually compromises patients’ ability to walk and even to talk. Their findings have been published in the journal Science Advances.

The usual method of visualising brain structure — MRI — is not sensitive enough to reveal the biological changes that take place in the brain of Parkinson patients, and at present is primarily only used to eliminate other possible diagnoses. The HU researchers, led by Professor Aviv Mezer, realised that the cellular changes in Parkinson’s could possibly be revealed by adapting a related technique, known as quantitative MRI (qMRI), which achieves its sensitivity by taking several MRI images using different excitation energies — rather like taking the same photograph in different colours of lighting.

Using a novel method of qMRI analysis developed by Mezer’s doctoral student Elior Drori, the HU researchers were able to reveal biological changes in the tissue structure within distinct regions of the striatum, a part of the brain that is known to deteriorate during the progress of Parkinson’s disease. Moreover, the researchers were able to demonstrate that these changes were associated with the early stages of Parkinson’s and movement dysfunction. The structural sensitivity of the team’s measurements could only have been previously achieved in laboratories examining the brain cells of patients post-mortem, which is obviously 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,” Mezer said. The new information should thus facilitate early diagnosis of the disease and provide ‘markers’ for monitoring the efficacy of future drug therapies.

“What we have discovered is the tip of the iceberg,” added Mezer, with the researchers planning to extend their technique to investigate microstructural changes in other regions of the brain. Furthermore, the team are 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 identification of subgroups within the population suffering from Parkinson’s disease — some of whom may respond differently to some drugs than others. Ultimately, he said he sees this analysis “leading to personalised treatment, allowing future discoveries of drug with each person receiving the most appropriate drug”.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/vege

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