A new imaging technique that tracks the accumulation of iron in the brain could be helpful for the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, according to research.
Scientists say they have developed a “cutting-edge” method, called quantitative susceptibility mapping, to map iron levels in the brain based on scans.
They say this technique is more advanced than conventional brain imaging, which fails to track Parkinson’s progression until late stage.
Based on their findings, the researchers believe measuring iron deposits in the brain could also help predict which people with Parkinson’s will develop dementia.
Dr Rimona Weil, of University College London’s (UCL) Queen Square Institute of Neurology and lead author on the study, said: “Iron in the brain is of growing interest to people researching neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and dementias.
“As you get older, iron accumulates in the brain, but it’s also linked to the build-up of harmful brain proteins, so we’re starting to find evidence that it could be useful in monitoring disease progression, and potentially even in diagnostics.”
The researchers studied 97 people with Parkinson’s disease along with 37 people without the condition.
The participants were given scores based on tests on thinking, memory and motor function.
The researchers mapped the iron levels in the brain using their new quantitative susceptibility mapping technique.
They found that iron accumulation in the hippocampus and thalamus brain regions was associated with poor memory and thinking scores, while iron in the putamen region of the brain correlated with poor movement scores.
Based on their findings, the researchers said it is “very promising that iron deposition was specifically detected in those areas”.
They believe tracking iron deposits in the brain could help clinicians determine whether a treatment is working or not and could, in future, be helpful for early diagnosis of Parkinson’s or other neurodegenerative diseases.
Co-author Dr Julio Acosta-Cabronero, of the UCL’s Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, said: “We hope that brain iron measurement could be useful for a wide range of conditions, such as to gauge dementia severity or to see which brain regions are affected by other movement, neuromuscular and neuroinflammatory disorders, stroke, traumatic brain injury and drug abuse.”
The researchers are following up the same study participants to see how their disease is progressing while monitoring the changes in their brain’s iron levels.
The research is published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry.