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Detecting Disease: Israeli Scientists Discover How to 'See' Molecular Changes in Your Brain as You Age

07-31-2019
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JERUSALEM, Israel - A team of Israeli scientists at Hebrew University has successfully transformed a MRI camera into a device that could potentially detect brain disease by recording molecular changes in brain tissue.

Professor Aviv Mezer and his team published their results on Tuesday in the Nature Communications journal. 

Brain diseases leave biological footprints that doctors analyze and use to determine treatment. MRI imaging can only provide pictures of the brain, but Mezer says his team has found a way to go deeper and detect developing diseases in the brain on the molecular level.

"Instead of images, our quantitative MRI model provides molecular information about the brain tissue we're studying.  This could allow doctors to compare brain scans taken over time from the same patient, and to differentiate between healthy and diseased brain tissue, without resorting to invasive or dangerous procedures, such as brain tissue biopsies," explained Mezer.

Ph.D. student Shir Filo worked on the study and said it can help aging patients discover if their memory loss is just a symptom of getting older or a  disease.

"When we take a blood test, it shows us the exact number of white blood cells in our body and whether that number is higher than normal due to illness.  MRI scans provide images of the brain but don't show changes in the composition of the human brain, changes that could potentially differentiate normal aging from the beginnings of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's," said Filo.

The team hopes this new technique will allow doctors to detect brain disease earlier and begin treatment in its early stages.

Mezer also said their research could help experts learn more about how the brain ages.

"When we scanned young and old patients' brains, we saw that different brain areas ages differently.  For example, in some white-matter areas, there is a decrease in brain tissue volume, whereas in the gray-matter, tissue volume remains constant.  However, we saw major changes in the molecular makeup of the gray matter in younger versus older subjects," he said.

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