Imagine for a moment that you woke up this morning unable to completely control your speech or your movements.
You realize it’s not a question of strength or disability – your mind is clear and your extremities feel normal. You simply lack control over your own body’s movements.
This is the battle fought each day by more than 150,000 patients suffering from ataxia, a set of symptoms caused by a dysfunction in the cerebellum, the area in the back of the brain responsible for coordination of movement, speech and senses.
People with ataxia experience uncontrolled, uncoordinated movements in the way they walk, talk and move their extremities.
Fortunately, researchers are working hard to find effective treatments. The challenge is detecting the condition early enough, or in some cases, before symptoms even present. Enter the University of Minnesota.
With the aid of magnetic resonance spectroscopy, Gulin Oz, Ph.D., an ataxia researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Magnetic Resonance Research (CMRR), is able to detect cellular changes in the cerebellum before they cause further irreversible damage.
“At CMRR, we use a technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy to study the brain chemistry in patients with ataxia,” said Oz. “We take advantage of the sensitivity that high field MR scanners provide and utilize technology we’ve developed in-house to obtain a wealth of information about brain chemistry.”
Oz uses high-powered MRI scanners to measure chemicals found within the cerebellum to detect the progression or slowing of ataxia. By monitoring changes in the cerebellum over time, Oz believes the effort could lead to earlier detection of ataxia.
The MRI scanners are also able to pick up ataxia biomarkers and monitor the effectiveness of trial drugs on the ataxia disease.
“Using chemical markers we hope to detect the earliest disease-related changes in the brain – while the neurons are struggling, but before they die, when interventions may rescue them,” said Oz. “In addition, we plan to use these chemical markers in clinical trials of neuroprotective treatments. Such objective markers that can inform us about the status of the brain non-invasively are greatly needed to assess potential new treatments.”
For more on CMRR research visit their website at www.cmrr.umn.edu