Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have created a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique that can “see” molecular changes in the brain. They successfully transformed the MRI from a device that diagnoses conditions into one that can record changes in the biological makeup of brain tissue.  

This is especially important for doctors who need to understand more quickly whether a patient is merely getting older or is developing a neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. 

The technology was developed by Prof. Aviv Mezer and his team at the university’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences on Mount Scopus in the capital. 

Conventional MRI scanners present a picture of the inside of the body –

organs, bones, nerves and soft tissue.  But what if MRI’s could show us the molecular makeup of our body parts and help doctors determine more quickly the onset of disease and begin treatment?

The team presented their findings in a paper just published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications that was titled “Non-invasive detection of age-related molecular profiles in the human brain. 

“Instead of images, our quantitative MRI model provides molecular information about the brain tissue that we’re studying. This could allow doctors to compare brain scans taken over time from the same patient and to differentiate between healthy and diseased brain tissue, without resorting to invasive or dangerous procedures, such as brain tissue biopsies,” explained Mezer.

External signs of aging are familiar to us – gray hair, a stooped spine and occasional memory loss.  But how do we know if a patient’s brain is aging normally or developing a disease?  The answer is found on the biological level.  Both normal aging and neurodegenerative diseases create biological “footprints” in the brain, changing the lipid and protein content of brain tissue.  

While current MRI scans provide only pictures of the human brain, this new technique provides biological readouts of brain tissue – the ability to see what’s going on at a molecular level and to direct a course of treatment accordingly. 

“When we take a blood test, it shows us the exact number of white blood cells in our body and whether that number is higher than normal due to illness. MRI scans provide images of the brain, but they don’t show changes in the composition of the human brain – changes that could potentially differentiate normal aging from the beginnings of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s,” noted doctoral student Shir Filo, who worked on the study together with Mazer and Oshrat Shtangel, Noga Salamon, Adi Kol, Batsheva Weisinger, Sagiv Shifman. 

Looking ahead, Mezer believes that the new MRI technique will also provide a crucial understanding into how our brains age. “When we scanned young and elderly patients’ brains, we saw that different brain areas ages differently. For example, in some white-matter areas, there is a decrease in brain tissue volume, whereas in the gray-matter, tissue volume remains constant.  However, we saw major changes in the molecular makeup of the gray matter in younger versus older subjects.”  

All this bodes well for patients.  Not only will MRIs be able to distinguish molecular signs of normal aging from the early signs of disease; patients will more likely receive correct diagnoses earlier, speeding up when they begin treatment and maintaining an improved quality of life longer, all via a non-invasive technique.

 

Source: Israel in the News