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Enhanced MRI in Development for Faster Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

Brain scan (National Institute of Mental Health)

(National Institute of Mental Health)

Researchers at University of York in the U.K. are developing a new process that increases the sensitivity of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to diagnose molecular events behind disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. York’s Signal Amplification by Reversible Exchange or SABRE project conducting the research recently received a £3.6 million ($US 5.8 million) Strategic Award from the Wellcome Trust to support seven postdoctoral researchers.

SABRE is part of York’s planned Centre for Hyperpolarisation in Magnetic Resonance, which is headed by chemistry professor Simon Duckett, who shares the project leadership with Gary Green from the York Neuroimaging Centre, and biologist Hugh Perry from University of Southampton. The project received some £12.5 million ($US 20.1 million) in the last three years from the Wellcome Trust, Wolfson Foundation, the company Bruker Biospin, University of York, and U.K.’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Hyperpolarization involves the transfer of magnetism from parahydrogen to molecules making them more visible in MRI scans. Parahydrogen is a form of hydrogen that has a single proton, called a singlet state. When used with magnetic resonance, parahydrogen can increase the energy level, and thus the intensity, of magnetic resonance signals. SABRE will develop the chemical basis of this method to make it suitable for medical applications.

The project is expected to bring together scientists from the fields of chemistry, psychology, biology and medicine. Collaborators will include medical imaging specialists from Germany and the U.S.

“While MRI has completely changed modern health care, its value is greatly limited by its low sensitivity,” says Duckett. “As well as tailoring treatments more accurately to the needs of individual patients, our hope is that in the future doctors will be able to accurately make diagnoses that currently take days, weeks, and sometimes months, in just minutes.”

Green adds, “SABRE has the potential to revolutionize clinical MRI and related MR methods by providing a huge improvement in the sensitivity of scanners. This will ultimately produce a step change in the use and type of information available to scientists and clinicians through MRI, allowing the diagnosis, treatment, and clinical monitoring of diverse neurodegenerative diseases.”

A new building for the Centre for Hyperpolarisation in Magnetic Resonance is under construction at York, and the lab is expected to officially begin work in September 2013.

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