Posted on Jun 24, 2009, 9 a.m.
By gary clark
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed an X-ray machine with the high quality resolution needed to track dense areas of protein that form in the brain of patients with Alzheimer's disease. The imaging technique may enable doctors to be able to identify the disease before it progresses.
Current brain imaging capabilities lack the resolution required to locate tiny amyloid beta plaques, which form in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. To overcome this obstacle, scientists from Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a highly detailed X-ray machine that combines micro-computed tomography with diffraction-enhanced imaging. For their study, the researchers used the technique on mouse models to image the same amyloid beta plaques found in Alzheimer's patients. The high-resolution imaging capabilities outperformed traditional MRI. In fact, as the researchers noted, "The X-ray images were amazing, but the dose is too high to be used in humans to study Alzheimer's."
Being able to take a closer look at the tiny plaques will be able to tell researchers much more than what has been previously known about the disease. In fact, the researchers hope that the technique will provide an inexpensive way to find the miniscule plaques, thereby enabling doctors to identify Alzheimer's in patients before it progresses and to track the progress of drugs that might be developed for treatment.
"Certain methods can visualize the plaque load, or overall number of plaques, which plays a role in clinical assessment and analysis of drug efficacy. But these methods cannot provide the resolution needed to show us the properties of individual amyloid beta plaques," says Dean Connor, a former postdoctoral researcher at Brookhaven now working for the University of North Carolina. The new X-ray machine "shows that we can see these plaques in a full brain, which means we can produce images from a live animal and learn how these plaques grow," says Connor.