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Hundreds of billions of brain cells connected to each other… during the last 30 years, scientists have made great discoveries about the brain thanks to magnetic resonance imaging. It allows them to see the human brain in action.
The MRI is a beautiful machine. There is so much more to add. We think we found a way to extract more information. For now MRI is mainly used as a way to look at brain images, which is very useful for clinicians for instance to research brain disease, to find brain tumors or brain lesions, but it's harder to quantify. So what we are doing now, we are part of a group of researchers that are trying to make the MRI an quantitative machine. You can think of it like a thermometer that didn't have units, but now it has units.
Dr Mezer and his team have achieved a real feat: they can show molecular changes happening in the brain.
The way we try to mimic the brain, we try to build a coating of fat, like liposomes, coating the membranes of neurons and see if the molecules that build this membrane will change the MRI. So we control those membranes by creating them here and take them to the MRI and see if different molecules change the signals of the MRI. And we actually find that it is.
In order to prove their theory, the researchers also worked on animal brains.
With humans we can only scan people who are alive and we can never really validate what there is inside. We say that we can measure the molecules in the brain. To validate that we used animal specimens. We took animals already sacrificed for other research and took their brain and put it inside the magnet and did the same type of scan we did on humans, but after that we took the brain, cut it into small pieces, and do a molecular analysis. And then we validate what measure in the MRI is comparable to the type of molecules. That means that what we measure in humans and the animal brains is a signature of the types of molecules in the brain.
For now, the MRIs used in hospitals produces images of organs, bones, nerves and soft tissues. And while helpful, sometimes this is still not enough for a diagnosis.
The hope is that there will be new information, a new dimension for clinicians to define what is normal and what is abnormal in aging, or degenerative diseases, or to identify brain tumors and so on.
Dr Mezer has already started working hand in hand with doctors from Hadassah and Share Tsedek hospitals in Israel.
We want to be able to help neurosurgeons decide if they need, or don’t need to go for surgery. This helps patients, like with brain tumors, improve their therapy, but this is something which is ongoing.
Researchers hope that, within a few years, they will be able to map precisely the molecular composition of the brain at different ages in order to have models that doctors will use to compare brain scans from patients.