The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

New head scanner can better detect multiple sclerosis

A new head scanner can detect multiple sclerosis earlier than previous methods. The scanner developed by researchers in Zurich can image the insulating layer of nerve cells that is damaged in the muscle disease.

Previously, it had not been possible to visualize the so-called myelin sheaths with sufficient precision to reliably diagnose and treat multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a press release issued by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) on Monday.

Myelin sheaths are protective layers that insulate nerve fibers. These insulating layers help to conduct electrical signals along the nerve fibers more efficiently. If they are damaged or thinned, this can lead to irreversible visual, speech and coordination disorders, among other things. In people with MS, the immune system attacks the myelin sheaths.

Direct measurement of the insulation layer

According to ETH Zurich, conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners can only image the insulation layers indirectly. This is because most devices react to water molecules in the body, which are excited by radio waves in a strong magnetic field. However, the myelin sheaths consist mainly of fatty tissue and proteins. Myelin water is only found between these layers. Standard MRI primarily uses the signals of the hydrogen atoms in the myelin water for its images.

The new head scanner, on the other hand, measures myelin content directly, according to the ETH. It provides the MRI images of the brain with numerical values that show how much myelin is present at a particular location compared to other areas of the image. According to ETH Zurich, this information enables doctors to better assess the severity and progression of MS.

According to the university, the researchers have already tested their new MRI method on tissue samples from patients with MS and on two healthy people. Next, they want to test it on MS patients themselves.

©Keystone/SDA

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