Research suggests specialized brain imaging can unveil mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease, other disorders


By David McFadden

Rédacteur scientifique / Research Writer, Faculté de médecine / Faculty of Medicine

Laser covers bald man's cranium as he is put into CT scan
A novel brain imaging technique can potentially be used in large-scale screenings for Alzheimer’s, while also providing possible insights about the disease’s earliest stages, long before symptoms emerge.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, one of the major causes of dependency and disability in older adults. Though advances have been made in understanding the harrowing brain disease, diagnostic tests are currently limited and there are no treatments.

Now, a Faculty of Medicine assistant professor and a team of collaborators have published new research suggesting that a novel neuroimaging technique can potentially be employed in large-scale screenings for Alzheimer’s. It can also provide possible insights about the disease’s earliest stages, long before symptoms emerge.

The findings could help steer targeted drug design down the line and perhaps pave the way for a practical, less-invasive way to screen for Alzheimer’s, which can lead to such severe cognitive decline that sufferers can lose the ability to recognize loved ones or even communicate at the most basic level.

Published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Neuropsychopharmacology, the scientists’ study suggests that use of a high-resolution imaging method called “neuromelanin-sensitive MRI” could have promise for predicting the risk of symptoms or guiding future treatment.

Dr. Clifford Cassidy

“There's evidence that the noradrenergic area of the brain is the part that actually starts accumulating tau first, years prior to the emergence of any symptoms.”

Dr. Clifford Cassidy

— Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine's Department of Cellular & Molecular Medicine (CMM)

Their findings confirm previous data that the brain’s noradrenergic system is progressively degenerating with Alzheimer's disease.  This brain system is vitally important because it may be the first area affected with Alzheimer's and its pathology is related to the disorder’s symptoms.

“We still don't understand why some people get Alzheimer's and some don't. We don't know why some people are protected and some are vulnerable. So the question is: What makes you vulnerable?” says Dr. Clifford Cassidy, an assistant professor in the Faculty’s Department of Cellular & Molecular Medicine (CMM) and a scientist at The Royal's Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR), is the paper’s first author. “It really opens the door to examining these brain systems in humans, in vivo, in pretty much any disorder where it can be relevant.”

Read the entire article via the Faculty of Medicine page.

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