According to a university press release, researchers at Cambridge University have developed ultra-powerful magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners that can help determine where new medications can be utilized for Parkinson''s disease symptoms and other similar neuronal conditions.
Parkinson''s disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that usually begins with a slight tremor in one hand. The damage has already begun inside the brain as neurons - brain cells - have begun to gradually degrade and die. This is because of the loss of a chemical called dopamine, which is naturally responsible for abnormal brain activity.
Extreme fatigue, inadequate posture, and even decreased unconscious movements like blinking or smiling over some time are common symptoms. A condition calledprogressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) also indicates similar symptoms and affects an individual''s cognition.
Moving beyond L-DOPA
Conditions like Parkinson''s and PSP cannot be healed. Medications such as L-DOPA have been used to treat severe dopamine loss in these conditions. However, the treatment does not cure non-motor symptoms such as memory and thinking difficulties.
The research has focused on noradrenaline, a chemical that plays an important role in brain function, according to Professor James Rowe of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences. "It''s a bit like two short sticks of spaghetti half an inch long, which means the blue spot," he said. "It''s a bit like two short sticks of spaghetti half an inch long, and it''s tucked away at the very base of the brain in the car."
Interestingly, Professor Rowe''s previous study has shown that individuals with PSP have lost nearly 90% of their locus coeruleus. One might hypothetically identify the disease early on.
Limited Resolution of current MRI machines
The researchers discovered that the locus coeruleus was too small for to be detected by the best MRI equipment they employ today. If clinicians cannot see the region on a scan, they do not know if the area has fallen in size or not, and if an individual is developing a neuronal illness.
Using a 7T MRI scanner, scientists could assess structures that are quite large as a grain of rice. Using this higher resolution, they were able to assess the locus coeruleus in their subjects and identify its severity as an invasion of the region. The study reported that individuals with higher damage performed worse on cognitive tests.
The damage to the locus coeruleus is caused by the build-up of a protein called tau. The same protein has been associated with Parkinson''s disease. This loss of noradrenaline has also been associated with the accumulation of the tau protein, which has resulted in further inflammation of noradrenaline in the brain.
Professor Rowe and colleagues are currently conducting research to see if noradrenaline medications may be beneficial to PSP patients. However, if the locus coeruleus is damaged, the medication will certainly assist, and the newly developed 7T MRI scanners will assist in determining which patients will likely benefit from these new therapies.