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New brain scanning technique investigates Alzheimer's disease

Campus grounds outside ISB

Monday 27 July 2009 12:24pm

One of the most powerful MRI scanners in the country is being used by researchers from the University of Otago, Christchurch to advance our understanding of Alzheimer's disease by measuring how the brain works in relation to eye movements.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia in New Zealand and affects 38,000, or 8% of the population over 65. Numbers with Alzheimer's are expected to triple over coming years as the population ages. This week (July 26 - August 2) Alzheimer's NZ is holding its 'Forget Me Not' campaign to raise awareness of Alzheimer's disease.

The ground-breaking research being undertaken at the Van der Veer Institute is the first in the country to use a new brain scanning technique (arterial spin labelling) which measures the extent of blood flow into different areas of the brain. The MRI scanner magnetically 'tags' the blood as it flows up through the neck. Alternatives require the use of radioactive chemicals and a PET scanner, which is expensive and only available overseas.

The blood flow measures can be correlated with other tasks (e.g. eye movements) that arise from the study. In the study so far, the researchers have found some areas of the brain, such as the parietal lobe, have reduced blood flow because of Alzheimer's, a finding that corresponds with some of the well-known effects of the disease and with overseas research.

This technique has only been licensed by General Electric in 14 centres world-wide and Christchurch is the first in New Zealand.

The research is also investigating which areas of the brain are activated with fast eye movements. People with Alzheimer's have different eye movements to those who do not have the disease.

"This new approach to safely measure brain blood flow through MRI may enable physicians and scientists to distinguish between different kinds of dementia." said Dr Michael MacAskill, Chief Scientist at the Van der Veer Institute.

"This could then be useful in diagnosis, predicting the progress of the disease, and monitoring the effectiveness of treatments."

For further information contact

Dr Michael MacAskill
Van der Veer Institute
University of Otago,Christchurch
Tel 03 378 6092

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