Malayali researcher's MRI study gives major breakthrough in Parkinson's disease

Joseph Antony

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The study is of great significance as it is the first reported Ultra-high field MRI (7T) study of Parkinson's disease. With 7T MRI, high-resolution images that enabled the new findings were collected. 

Pramod K. Pisharady

Kozhikode: Kottayam native Dr Pramod Pisharady and his research group have stumbled upon new findings that may help develop a treatment regime for Parkinson’s disease and thus help the medical field significantly. They found that certain changes are taking place in some people affected with Parkinson’s disease that may help treat brain damage. Parkinson’s is a nervous system disorder that affects movement. This disease has not given much to grasp for the field of science.

Pisharady, a scientist at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR), University of Minnesota in the US, and his teammates, including colleague Rémi Patriat and neurology professor Colum D MacKinnon, made the recent findings after the study conducted by using the latest MRI technology. The study report was published in the Brain Communications journal.

Pisharady secured his Ph.D. from Singapore National University. He conducted his post-doctoral study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He has been a part of ‘Barack Obama Initiative started by Barack Obama.

The study was conducted by using 38 PD patients (18 RBD and 20 non-RBD) and 21 healthy people.

Our sleep has many stages. One among those is REM sleep. Rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is the sleep disorder associated with this. Those affected by Parkinson’s may or may not experience RBD. The study was conducted by comparing the details of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of these two categories of people.

In the study, Parkinson's Disease (PD) patients were classified based on Rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder into patients with RBD and without RBD and compared their MRI data with the MRI data from healthy people. It was found that some compensatory changes are happening in axonal microstructure in some of the brain regions that control motor and cognitive functions in the non-RBD group. That means the non-RBD group still has the disease, but some changes are happening in the axonal structure in the brain that somehow compensate for the neurodegeneration and avoid some of the symptoms in them.

The RBD group does not have these compensatory changes and so the symptoms are worse in that group (impairments in gait and upper arm speed, reduced step length, cognitive and memory issues). More importantly, it was found that the decline in motor (eg. step length), cognitive, and memory functions can be predicted with diffusion MRI measures which are useful in the early diagnosis of the disease (that is before the symptoms are visible in conventional behavioral exams by the neurologists).

Imges of brain used for research

The study is of great significance as it is the first reported Ultra-high field MRI (7T) study of Parkinson's disease. With 7T MRI, high-resolution images that enabled the new findings were collected.

The 7T MRI machine is developed at the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR), with more than 20 years of research, with supporting research from many other labs. The research started at CMRR in 1995, Seimens made the first commercial 7T machine available in 2017. The machine is being distributed worldwide now.

It is also the first reported study that compared the RBD and non-RBD groups in Parkinson's disease.

The research group has demonstrated that the currently used behavioral measures/ symptoms used for diagnosis can be predicted earlier with an MRI scan, which is useful in early diagnosis. Further research by neurobiologists is needed to understand the neurobiological underpinnings of the compensatory changes we reported. Such understandings may be useful for disease treatment, say by enforcing these compensatory changes externally with medicines.

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