UCSF granted $10M for neuroimaging project

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Scientists at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have received a $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for a neuroimaging project to study frontotemporal dementia in patients using PET, MRI and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).

Frontotemporal dementia, a degenerative brain disease is as common as Alzheimer’s disease in people under 60 years, and affects decision making, behavior, emotion and language. The disease gradually destroys the ability to behave in a socially appropriate manner, to empathize with others, learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities, according to UCSF.

The study, led by Howard Rosen, MD, associate professor of neurology at UCSF, will determine how to use new imaging techniques to illuminate the changes that occur in the brain as the disease progresses which will enable scientists to identify biomarkers for diagnosis and track the impact of experimental drugs.

“While cognitive testing scores vary from day to day due to factors such as sleep quality and medication use, imaging studies measure brain structure and function precisely. They can reveal when a drug has slowed or reversed the brain shrinkage that would normally occur,” said Rosen.

The study will investigate whether a combination of images, such as structural MRI, PET and DTI, will provide a better explanation of how a patient is doing than any one of these image types alone. It also will include serial assessments of the chemistry in the blood and cerebrospinal fluid, to see how these relate to changes in the brain images.

“It is possible that one or both of these techniques could replace PET scanning, which is expensive and requires exposure to radiation,” said Rosen. “This would lower the cost of clinical trials and make it possible for more patients to enroll because MRI scanners are commonly available.”