A team of Toronto medical researchers may have discovered a new MRI scanning technique that could one day help physicians better diagnose patients at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. And the new technique would be far less costly than the traditional methods of molecular imaging of amyloid deposits, according to a recently published story in the Toronto Star.
The new method involves the field measurements of cerebrovascular reactivity, or CVR, and the use of an MRI scan to evaluate the patient’s brain response when exposed to elevated levels of carbon dioxide. According to the Star article, patients were outfitted with an oxygen mask that slowly increased the levels of CO 2 concentration in the blood to 20 percent higher than the levels typically produced by normal breathing patterns.
When we increase the CO 2 levels in a healthy brain, blood vessels should automatically widen to increase the flow of oxygen. The theory behind the Toronto research study suggests that patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or other neurological disorders have blood vessels that simply don’t expand properly.
Mapping the performance of these blood vessels could be the key. The hope is that when MRI scans are compared between patients will full-blown Alzheimer’s and patients with only mild cognitive impairment, doctors can more easily spot those who are traveling towards the disease at a rapid rate. An extra side benefit would be the substantially reduced cost for the associated testing. The cost of the new MRI method is a whopping one-sixth less than the current diagnostic techniques of amyloid imaging.
The Star notes that many in the scientific community believe that the new MRI method could potentially provide many other positive applications along with the more accurate diagnoses of Alzheimer’s patients. CVR status has already been revealed to be an important determining factor and early indicator of stroke and heart disease, for example. Although the research is still in the early stages, many in the medical community are confident that the new MRI technique will be approved in both Canada and the United States very soon.