The buildup of amyloid beta (Aß) plaque in the brain is suspected to be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease, yet detecting the presence of the substance is difficult with current imaging technology. This is a serious problem, as even testing how effective an experimental medication is is a diagnostic nightmare. A new technology, called diffraction-enhanced imaging (DEI), that uses high intensity X-rays has been developed at Brookhaven National Laboratory that may help with the search for the cure.
DEI, which makes use of extremely bright beams of x-rays available at synchrotron sources such as Brookhaven’s National Synchrotron Light Source, is used to visualize not only bone, but also soft tissue in a way that is not possible using standard x-rays. In contrast to conventional sources, synchrotron x-ray beams are thousands of times more intense and extremely concentrated into a narrow beam. The result is typically a lower x-ray dose with a higher image quality.
In this study, researchers from Brookhaven and Stony Brook University used DEI in a high-resolution mode called micro-computed tomography to visualize individual plaques in a mouse-brain model of Alzheimer’s disease. The results not only revealed detailed images of the plaques, but also proved that DEI can be used on whole brains to visualize a wide range of anatomical structures without the use of a contrast agent.
The images are similar to those produced by high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), with the potential to even exceed MRI pictures in resolution, Connor said. “The contrast and resolution we achieved in comparison to other types of imaging really is amazing,” he said. “When DEI is used, everything just lights up.”
The radiation dose used for this study is too high to safely image individual A• [sic] plaques in humans – the ultimate goal – but the results provide researchers with promising clues.
Brookhaven press release: X-Rays for Early Alzheimer’s Disease Detection…