University of Florida is reporting that its researchers have devised a novel technique to study intracerebral iron oxide particles associated with Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases, using one of the X-ray sources at Argonne National Laboratory’s synchrotron:
The synchrotron is an electron accelerator that produces the most powerful X-rays in the nation. Also known as the Advanced Photon Source, it is usually used for basic science experiments in high-energy physics. But the UF researchers crafted a system of mirrors and lenses that taps one of the cyclotron’s 35 “beam lines,” or X-ray sources, for the new purpose of analyzing brain tissue.
The results are impressive. Whereas an electron microscope can examine tissue one micron, or one thousandth of a centimeter, the new device can look at tissue two or three hundred microns in size. If it locates a particle, it then uses traditional spectroscopic methods to zoom in and determine what sort of iron the particle happens to be.
“It’s the equivalent of being up in an airplane, looking at the city of Tampa, and telling you whether there is a penny there or not,” Davidson said. “And then once we zoom in, we can tell you what kind of penny it is.”
So little is understood about the role of iron in neurodegenerative diseases today that it’s not even clear whether the iron is a symptom or a cause, Batich said. The UF technique may help by giving researchers a clearer view of the problem.