Light waves help detect Alzheimer’s early

March 17th, 2008 - 11:57 am ICT by admin  

New York, March 17 (IANS) An examination of brain tissue using the latest optical technology can help detect signs of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study. A team of researchers at the US Department of Veterans Affairs used near-infrared light to scan brain tissue samples from autopsies and correctly identified samples that came from people who had Alzheimer’s disease.

“We’re primarily interested in finding a way of diagnosing and monitoring Alzheimer’s disease during life,” writes research scientist Eugene Hanlon in the latest issue of the journal Optics Letters.

“We think this technique has a lot of potential for detecting the disease early on.”

The new technique developed by Hanlon and his colleagues detects alterations to the optical properties of the brain that occur as the tissue undergoes microscopic changes due to Alzheimer’s - sometimes far in advance of clinical symptoms.

The technique is now being tested for its effectiveness at diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in living people.

For several years, Hanlon and his colleagues have looked at the possibility of analysing the brain with near-infrared light, which has the advantage of being able to safely penetrate the skull and pass harmlessly through the brain.

Inside the head, some of the infrared light scatters, however, and how the light scatters can tell researchers about the condition of the brain.

In their paper, the team reports observing an optical effect due to the presence of microscopic features of Alzheimer’s. Amyloid plaques, one of the telltale signs of the disease, scatter light differently from normal brain tissue.

What Hanlon and his colleagues showed was that as the microscopic plaques accumulate, the optical properties of the brain change. The team found that this change is detectable and that their technique could quantify differences between in-vitro samples and correctly identify signs of Alzheimer’s.

This technique will be a boon to many patients if it is able to detect microscopic changes that can be related to disease progression.

While techniques like MRI are good at identifying the gross anatomical features associated with Alzheimer’s, they cannot detect more microscopic changes.

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