An Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)-funded project is employing the Diamond synchrotron in Oxfordshire to accurately map the distribution of iron in the brain, which could lead to an early test for Parkinson’s disease.
The distribution of metal ions in the brain tissue of Parkinson’s patients is altered by the effect of the disease on brain chemistry. The researchers are using microfocus spectroscopy, in which high-power, tightly focused X-ray beams penetrate tissue samples to map the metal distribution in the part of the brain containing motor neurones, which are affected by the condition. Earlier studies have shown that iron levels in individual cells nearly double in this region.
Lead researcher Dr Joanna Collingwood from Keele University said: ‘Improving our understanding of the biochemical aspects of the disease should, in the long term, provide potential openings for early MRI detection and diagnosis.
‘Early diagnosis is key because we know that by the time a typical individual presents with the symptoms of the disease, chemical changes have already caused significant cell death,’ she added.
It is estimated that four million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s disease. As a result of the ageing of the world’s population, this number is expected to increase.