Scientists: Ravi S. Menon, PhD, Rob Bartha, PhD, Stefan Everling, PhD , Terry Peters, PhD, FCCPM & Ting-Yim Lee, PhD, FCCPM
Brain diseases represent a leading cause of disability, dementia, and health-care utilization in Canada. Some brain illnesses such as epilepsy and schizophrenia begin early and last a lifetime. Others, such as Alzheimer disease occur late in life and are ultimately fatal. Imaging the brain by MRI provides a glimpse into the structure, function, and metabolism of the brain without the use of potentially harmful radiation. In recent years, the development of new MRI methods has sparked enormous excitement in the medical community. At Robarts, we have leveraged our long history and expertise in MRI research to lead new programs in the development of high magnetic field imaging methods that promise to provide greater image resolution, greater sensitivity, and the ability to visualize disease processes using new methods. Our program is highly integrated with leading physicists, biologists, chemists, engineers, and physicians within the Robarts Research Institute at the University of Western Ontario, and within our associated hospitals.
Understanding the Normal Brain
A first step in understanding brain disease is to understand normal brain structure, function, and biochemistry. At the Robarts Research Institute, state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging scanners including two 3-Tesla MRIs, the only human 7-Tesla MRI in Canada, and the only 9.4-Tesla medium bore MRI are used to study all aspects of the brain. Much of this work is done in collaboration with scientists from the Centre for Brain and Mind. Fundamental discoveries in how the brain works fuel these efforts to study brain disease such as Alzheimer Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Epilepsy. The enormous power of the MRI systems at Robarts is that they cover the range from mice to man and that the results can be integrated with finding from electrophysiology and cognitive neuroscience.
Early Detection of Alzheimer Disease
Our research program into the early detection of Alzheimer disease is fueled by recent discoveries that brain structure and metabolism are different in subjects with Alzheimer disease compared to normal elderly subjects; particularly in the parts of the brain important in forming memories. Since Alzheimer disease progresses slowly over the course of several years, the need to identify the disease early to avoid irreversible memory loss and loss of other cognitive abilities is escalating, as new treatments for Alzheimer disease are discovered and tested. At Robarts, in collaboration with clinical scientists, our researchers are uniquely positioned to integrate state-of-the-art, non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging to study and monitor small changes in the brain with changes in cognitive status and to follow disease progression. The Alzheimer and epilepsy imaging research group at Robarts is poised to make new and important discoveries using a combination of structural, functional, and metabolic MRI methods to image brain deterioration, which will ultimately lead to earlier disease detection.
MR Imaging for Epilepsy Surgery
The objective of this project is to integrate cutting-edge MRI tools, such as relaxation mapping and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), to provide enhanced localization of epileptic foci in the frontal and temporal lobes, and to optimize surgical planning. This approach is intended to ultimately eliminate the need for invasive and traumatic procedures commonly employed to lateralize epileptogenic activity and identify seizure foci by combining the results of multiple MR testing protocols at 3T and 7T within a single environment. A key aspect of this work will be the correlation of pre- and post-operative (excised specimen) images with histology sections of resected tissue to establish the link between imaging parameters and pathology. The endpoint of this research will be an integrated image analysis and surgical guidance environment that can serve both as a multi-spectral image analysis and diagnosis platform, as well as a surgical planning and guidance system.
Diagnosis and Monitoring of Multiple Sclerosis
The objectives of the MRI neuroimaging research program in MS are to develop new imaging techniques that provide relevant markers and predictors of disease progression in multiple sclerosis (MS) and other neurological diseases. In particular, our researchers are exploiting the incredible detail provided by our ultra-high field MRI scanners. This research is focused on quantitative methods for measurement of tissue injury and neurodegeneration from magnetic resonance images (MRIs) of the brain. This group is also seeking the best ways to apply these methods to improve routine monitoring and therapy evaluation, and to gain new insights into pathologic processes.
The development of new brain imaging methods has taken on renewed priority in recent years, due to the development of new drugs and surgical techniques that promise to reduce the impact of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Epilepsy. Our researchers are developing the next generation of
advanced MRI techniques using the most comprehensive integrated facilities in Canada combined with advanced image processing tools to visualize the normal brain and disease progression. Over the next decade, these advances will reduce the burden of these diseases to individuals, families, and society in general.