MRI images for detection of microstructural changes in early-stage PD patients. In yellow are areas where PD patients show tissue damage, compared to healthy controls. Image courtesy of Mezer Lab/Hebrew University

MRI images for detection of microstructural changes in early-stage PD patients. In yellow are areas where PD patients show tissue damage, compared to healthy controls. Image courtesy of Mezer Lab/Hebrew University 


July 19, 2022 — Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) researchers have developed an early-stage diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease with a Quantitative Magnetic Resonance Imaging (qMRI) method detailed in a new study in Scientific Advances. 

Parkinson's disease is a brain disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination. Diagnosis is complex, and impossible in the early stages. 

The usual method of visualizing brain structure utilizes MRI. However, it isn't sensitive enough to reveal the biological changes that take place in the brains of Parkinson patients, and at present is primarily only used to eliminate other possible diagnoses. 

The novel method of analysis reveals biological changes in the cellar tissue of the striatum, a part of the deep brain. Developed by Elinor Drori, the doctoral student of Prof. Aviv Mezer, the researchers recognized that the cellular changes in Parkinson's could possibly be revealed and were able to demonstrate that these changes were associated with the early stages of Parkinson's and patients’ movement dysfunction. 

The new qMRI method enabled HU researchers to look at microstructures within the striatum, an organ which is known to deteriorate during Parkinson's disease progression. qMRI achieves its sensitivity by taking several MRI images using different excitation energies – similar to taking the same photograph in different colors of lighting. The HU researchers were able to use their qMRI analysis to reveal changes in the tissue structure within distinct regions of the striatum. Until now, the structural sensitivity of these measurements could only have been achieved in laboratories during postmortem examination of patients' brain cells. -- not an ideal situation for early disease diagnosis or monitoring drug efficacy

"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," says 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 is the tip of the iceberg. It is a technique that they will now extend 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 three to five years down the line. Drori believes 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 sees this analysis leading to personalized treatment, allowing future discoveries of drug with each person receiving the most appropriate drug. 

For more information: http://new.huji.ac.il/en 

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