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Medicineworld.org: Daring To Take Risks and Reap the Rewards

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Daring To Take Risks And Reap The Rewards

Daring To Take Risks and Reap the Rewards Innovative brain-mapping techniques allow scientists to detect subtle disease-associated brain changes, including percentages of brain tissue loss, represented by different colors, in AIDS patients. (Image courtesy of The Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, University of California, Los Angeles)
Medical advances often originate with a flash of creativity and a tolerance for risk. Recognizing that the safe bet is not always the best path when pursuing scientific knowledge, NCRR funds Exploratory/Developmental Research Projects, known as R21 grants, to give researchers the freedom to pursue innovative, high-risk scientific ideas, methods, or technologies that may ultimately lead to significant health-related payoffs. For instance, neuroscientist Paul Thompson depended on R21 funding to develop sophisticated computational tools for imaging and analyzing how diseases or adverse events affect the brain. A different R21 grant allowed geneticist Carl Pinkert to create a unique animal model for studying mitochondria disease, which has broad implications for human health.

NIH created the R21 funding mechanism to provide up to two years of support for the early and conceptual stages of innovative research projects. NCRR funds R21 grants in two broad categories: biomedical technology and comparative medicine.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, Thompson and colleagues developed a novel computational framework that effectively stretches, contorts, and changes the geometry of highly detailed three-dimensional brain images obtained via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These manipulations allow researchers to overlap and meld multiple brain images, collected over time or from multiple individuals, and enable comparisons between normal and dysfunctional brains. To date, the images have clearly revealed the changes wrought by Alzheimer's disease, methamphetamine abuse, schizophrenia, and AIDS. "With R21 funding, we developed new mathematical methods for understanding the effects of disease," says Thompson, an associate professor of neurology. "These images are really snapshots of a disease spreading over time".

In Alzheimer's disease, for example, MRIs collected every six months showed the brain's outer layer, or cortex, becoming thinner as the condition progressed. Because the new methods can detect even the tiniest brain changes as neurodegenerative processes begin, patients may benefit from earlier diagnosis and therapy.

Other studies used MRI scans to compare the brains of methamphetamine users to healthy adults. The drug users showed specific patterns of tissue loss in areas that control craving, emotion, and reward. Those brain regions may lose up to 10 percent of their tissue over time, a finding that may explain a user's quest for increasingly higher doses to maintain a high. Methamphetamine also eats away at the hippocampal regions that control learning and memory, impairing both.

The mathematical algorithms developed with R21 funding also are shedding light on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections. Eventhough a number of studies have examined the pathogenesis, transmission, and therapy of AIDS, researchers know surprisingly little about how HIV, the AIDS-causing virus, affects the brain. "Part of the problem is that most imaging techniques are not quite sensitive enough yet," Thompson says. But with the new brain-mapping algorithms, Thompson and colleagues were able to detect subtle differences between uninfected and HIV-positive individuals, revealing destruction of brain regions that control motor, language, and sensory functions. "This helps to explain the slowed reflexes and disruption of balance and gait that often affect people with early AIDS," says Thompson. "Some of the current mathematical work is to find features in images that can gauge the impact of disease and response to treatment," Thompson adds. "For instance, the scans can test a new drug's ability to penetrate the brain during clinical trials." By mapping a series of brain images after a patient receives a drug, clinicians can more rapidly track the effectiveness of a medication. "A lot of the modeling work we've done for the R21 project was demonstrating that these new computational tools might be better than other techniques that are currently used. And when they aren't better, we go back to the drawing board".



Posted by: Scott    Source




Did you know?
Medical advances often originate with a flash of creativity and a tolerance for risk. Recognizing that the safe bet is not always the best path when pursuing scientific knowledge, NCRR funds Exploratory/Developmental Research Projects, known as R21 grants, to give researchers the freedom to pursue innovative, high-risk scientific ideas, methods, or technologies that may ultimately lead to significant health-related payoffs. For instance, neuroscientist Paul Thompson depended on R21 funding to develop sophisticated computational tools for imaging and analyzing how diseases or adverse events affect the brain. A different R21 grant allowed geneticist Carl Pinkert to create a unique animal model for studying mitochondria disease, which has broad implications for human health.

Medicineworld.org: Daring To Take Risks and Reap the Rewards

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