JERUSALEM, July 30 (Xinhua) -- Israeli scientists successfully transformed an MRI from a diagnostic camera into a device that can record changes in the biological makeup of brain tissue, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) reported on Tuesday.
The new technique - described in the journal Nature Communications - is especially important for doctors to understand whether a patient is merely getting older or developing a neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.
The researchers explained that the new MRI technique "could allow doctors to compare brain scans taken over time from the same patient, and to differentiate between healthy and diseased brain tissue, without invasive or dangerous procedures, such as brain tissue biopsies."
Both normal aging and neurodegenerative diseases create biological "footprints" in the brain, changing the lipid and protein content of brain tissue.
Whereas current MRI scans provide only pictures of the brain, the new method provides biological readouts of brain tissue - the ability to see what's happening on a molecular level, and to direct a course of treatment accordingly.
Looking ahead, the researchers believe that the new technique will also provide a crucial understanding into how the brains age.
When they scanned young and old patients' brains, they saw that different brain areas ages differently.
For example, in some white-matter areas, there is a decrease in brain tissue volume, whereas in the gray-matter, tissue volume remains constant.
However, there were major changes in the molecular makeup of the gray matter in younger versus older subjects.
According to the research team, thanks to the new non-invasive technique patients will more likely receive correct diagnoses earlier, speeding up when they begin treatment and maintaining an improved quality of life longer.