June 26, 2014

New MRI technique discovered by University of Alberta researchers will help track disease progression

Researchers at the University of Alberta have discovered a way to track the progression of MS by using a new MRI method that measures iron levels in brain tissue. This finding will provide a better understanding of the impact MS has on the brain over time and will enable researchers to track disease progression.
[R Marc Lebel, Amir Eissa, Peter Seres, Gregg Blevins and Alan H Wilman.  Quantitative high field imaging of sub-cortical gray matter in multiple sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis. 2011 Oct  27. Epub ahead of print]

Drs. Alan Wilman and Gregg Blevins at the University of Alberta measured iron levels in the brains of 22 people who were newly diagnosed with MS and 22 people who did not have MS. They discovered that people with MS have higher levels of iron in areas of the brain responsible for relaying messages to the rest of the body. Iron is critical for normal functioning of the brain, and its regulation is tightly controlled by brain tissue. Drs. Wilman and Blevins suggest that too much iron can be toxic to brain cells and that high levels of iron in the brain are associated with neurodegenerative conditions. By using a powerful new MRI method, the research team was able to measure iron levels in the brains of people with MS; a measurement that was previously unattainable from a living brain.

The new MRI method will provide physicians with a way to measure the effectiveness of new treatments for MS by observing the impact on iron levels. The new imaging technique may also be a better indicator of disease progression than looking solely at the number and frequency of relapses. The researchers hope to see the new MRI method used in clinical trials for people with MS over the next couple of years. The MS Society of Canada will continue to follow this research area and will provide updates as they become available.

This research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and the Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and the University of Alberta Hospital Foundation.