Researchers in Nottingham
have discovered a new biological indicator which could potentially help to
track the progress of Parkinson’s disease using powerful MRI scanners.
Using highly sensitive new
brain imaging techniques, scientists from The University of Nottingham and
clinicians at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust have discovered a
measurable trait on the human brain which could be used not only to diagnose
the condition but potentially also to track progression of the disease.
Parkinson’s develops when
dopamine producing nerve cells in the brain die. Current diagnostic imaging
tests using nuclear medical techniques are costly and cannot be used to monitor
disease progression. There has been a need for such imaging tracking in
Parkinson’s disease to allow for the development of neuroprotective drugs
through clinical trials.
In a paper published in
the journal Neurology, the Nottingham researchers led by Penny, Gowland,
Professor of Physics, reveal that this new discovery could potentially lead to
a new diagnostic test for the disease.
Professor Gowland, who is
based at the University’s Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Centre, said:
“When conducting a different study of patients with Parkinson’s, by using a 7T
MRI scanner (which is an extremely powerful MRI scanner), we discovered a mark
which looked like a ‘tear drop’ on the brains of healthy subjects, and this was
not visible in the brains of patients. In subsequent post mortem scans, we
actually discovered that this was something called nigrosome 1. It was known
from previous post mortem work that nigrosome 1 could not be found in brains of
Parkinson’s disease patients.
‘So this was a
breakthrough discovery in that we now know that using this particularly
sensitive MRI scanner, we can see that patients living with Parkinson’s disease
don’t have this particular feature in their brain.”
Now, researchers will take
their findings and look into how this discovery can be translated into standard
MRI scans used in most hospitals.
Professor Gowland added:
“We are now conducting a study of patients with Parkinson’s to ascertain when
this mark actually disappears, which could potentially have huge implications
for early diagnosis of the illness, and subsequently how it is treated.”
Associate Honorary Clinical Professor in Neurology at Nottingham University
Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “By using highly accurate and sensitive brain
imaging techniques for Parkinson’s we are able to get an insight into the
mechanism that causes the disease for the first time.
“We have been trying to find a biological
marker for Parkinson’s for many years and the reason is that we need a tool to
measure change in the disease in clinical trials in a very sensitive way. This
discovery is a step change in Parkinson’s disease, it’s a game changer as they
say and the implications are potentially huge.”
A full copy of the research paper can be
viewed on the Neurology website.
The research involved academics at The University of Nottingham’s Sir Peter
Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Centre, Division of Radiological and Imaging
Sciences and School of Psychology in collaboration with the Divisions of
Pathology and Neurology at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.
The work was funded by the Medical Research
Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
The Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance
Centre is named after The University of Nottingham professor who played a
central role in the development of MRI technology which revolutionised
diagnostic medicine in hospitals around the world. His contribution to the
discovery earned him the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2003.
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More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University aims to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its research into global food security.
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