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Better Diagnostic Opportunities

With even more precise measurements, Jülich scientists aim to improve our understanding of, and ultimately the treatment of, diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), changes in the brain caused by liver diseases and early stage tumours.

By using simultaneous MRI and PET measurements, they are able, for the first time, to compare changes in the biochemistry of the brain with changes in the water content. This is particularly significant as water accumulates around diseased brain tissue in conditions such as MS, tumours and also following strokes. With a technique developed at Jülich, medical scientists can determine the water content in the different areas of the brain precisely, down to one percent using 3-T MRI devices , and are already able to monitor treatments.

Moreover, Jülich researchers are further developing cancer diagnosis by exploring special radionuclides for labelling tumours. The combination of PET and MRI in one measurement will provide additional information with which to characterise tissue before surgary.

Improved Opportunities for Diagnosis From the "9komma4" the researchers in Jülich expect better possibilities in the diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases. However, before the hybrid MR-PET system enters long-term medical applications, clinical studies are necessary. Photo: Forschungszentrum Jülich

New Diagnostic Opportunities: Alzheimer's

Researchers also hope to make progress in the early diagnosis of dementia using the hybrid MR-PET system.

In Germany, more than a million people suffer from dementia, in most cases from Alzheimer's. Experts estimate that this number will double in the next three decades. This impacts strongly, not only on those directly affected and their families, but also on the health system.

Alzheimer's causes nerve cells to die off in the brain and more and more areas are damaged. As a result, the brain may shrink by as much as one fifth, resulting in decreasing ability to cope with daily. Sooner or later patients' abilities decline such that they need constant nursing care.

Treatment in good time can delay severe symptoms

To date, the disease is not curable and a definite diagnosis is only possible after death. Furthermore, the early stages of Alzheimer's are particularly difficult to differentiate from other diseases. In the advanced stages, MRI investigations clearly show the shrinking of the brain areas. Here, in particular, an early diagnosis is important: if the disease is diagnosed at an early stage, the occurrence of severe symptoms can be delayed. To this end, patients can, for example, start with brain training.

How does the brain respond to drugs and memory training?

Simultaneous measurements with "9komma4" opens up new diagnostic opportunities. Researchers aim to investigate how the administration of drugs influences the brain and the course of a disease, whether oxygen consumption in certain brain regions is different in patients compared to healthy people when solving a problem and how fast cells react.

Jülich researchers hope that they will eventually be able to identify markers that clearly characterise the early stages of Alzheimer's. Once the markers are defined using "9komma4", a diagnosis should be also possible with simpler devices, leading to improved patient care and treatment.