Hi-tech brain scans are giving researchers the clearest picture yet of the damage caused by strokes.
A new advanced scanner – the first of its kind in Scotland – combines two specialised kinds of imaging to reveal details of the brain’s structure and function.
Scientists hope that the device will help them to understand the causes of bleeding in the brain that leads to certain types of stroke and dementia.
The scans will enable doctors to give patients a more accurate diagnosis and will also help them to monitor the effects of treatments, which could lead to better therapies.
The new scanner combines magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) into a single machine.
MRI scans provide structural details of organs and tissues inside the body, but little functional information.
PET scans – which follow a radioactive tracer in the body – can show processes such as brain activity or energy metabolism.
They can also reveal abnormal deposits of proteins in the brain that can cause damage but are not visible on MRI.
Combining the two types of scan into one machine allows researchers to view structures of the brain in action inside a person in real time.
Researchers will use the scanner to investigate how a protein called amyloid can build up in the blood vessels of the brain.
They hope to understand how this condition – called cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA) – triggers bleeding and stroke and causes dementia in some people.
The MR-PET scanner will transform our ability to detect changes in the brain that occur after stroke. We hope that the findings will help us to improve diagnosis and ultimately find new ways of treating the condition.
The new machines is part of a £14 million investment in the University of Edinburgh’s research imaging facilities.
With a total of six scanners dedicated to research, the Edinburgh Imaging facility is now one of the largest in Europe with close ties to clinical care.
The MRI-PET scanner is part of a new UK network of these scanners working on dementia research.
Acquisition and installation of the MR-PET scanner was supported by the Medical Research Council as part of the Dementias Platform UK Imaging Network.
The device will enable detailed imaging of the brain and other organs, providing insights into diseases of the heart, blood vessels, lung and various types of cancer.