Invention aids in brain research
New scanner could help unlock mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease
A London-developed scientific invention will help researchers take pictures of patients’ heads to unlock the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease and psychiatric illnesses.
Scientists at Lawson Health Research Institute, working with Ceresensa Inc., founded by Robarts scientists, have developed a product that can be used to take PET and MRI pictures simultaneously.
MRI scanners take a picture of structures and organs in the body, including blood vessels, for example. PET scans use gamma-rays to measure physiological functions, such as glucose metabolism.
In 2012, Lawson got the world’s first PET-MRI scanner, but pictures using both scanners weren’t able to be done together. MRIs are not designed to let gamma rays in.
“The challenge was to create an MRI coil without interfering with the PET process,” said Dr. Jean Theberge. “The main idea is that it allows both to happen at the same time, and to have research-grade MRI images while getting the PET scan as well.
“Simultaneous PET/MRI has changed what we can dream of for brain imaging research and clinical application. As scientists, we create things. Some are worth commercializing.”
Because Lawson was the first research facility to get an MRI/PET scanner in 2012, its scientists were also the first to notice that pictures couldn’t be done at the same time.
“If we could only find a (coil) so that we could do a PET and research-grade MRI at the same time. For neuropsychiatric disorders, which I’m interested in, you just can’t do without,” Theberge said. “Mother is the necessity of invention.”
It took a little over a year to get the idea for a head coil to the final product, said Adam Farag, the scientific director and co-founder of Ceresensa.
Initial testing of the head coil has brought interest from Siemens in Australia, which developed the MRI/PET scanner. The head coil is the first product developed by Ceresensa.
“We’re very lucky that we got such a unique and robust product,” said Farag. “We’d like to be at the forefront of MRI technology development.”
Similar coils will be developed for prostate and breast scans.
Taking pictures simultaneously with the PET and MRI is important because in neuropsychiatry, symptoms vary often, and because pictures already come out aligned because they’ve been taken at the same time.
“We get high-quality, fused images,” Theberge said.
Theberge said Lawson needs funding to operate the head coil. That’s likely to come from the Alzheimer’s researchers who are looking for the keys to unlocking the disease in a rapidly aging population.
“Right now, when you see the symptoms, it’s too late, the damage has been done. If we can detect (the damage) before it becomes too late, that would be very beneficial,” Theberge said.