February 16, 2009

Shining A Light On Parkinson’s Disease

A light source as bright as a million-watt bulb may help scientists identify the early signs of Parkinson's disease.

The Keele University team stated at a conference on Sunday that a "super-microscope" could identify any shifts in brain cells prior to being destroyed by the disease.

Keele's Dr. Joanna Collingwood feels that this innovative procedure is "pioneering."

She stated to the American Association for the Advancement of Science that patients could be helped before the disease really takes hold.

Collingwood and the research team utilized a synchrotron, or Diamond Light Source (DLS), at Harwell, Oxfordshire, in the UK.

The mechanism is a big, doughnut-shaped particle accelerator, about the size of five football fields put together, which aims particles at almost below the speed of light, focusing them into a single cell in diameter beam of light.

It lets the researchers review the iron levels in separate brain cells that are touched by Parkinson's.

Collingwood stated the AAAS conference in Chicago: "We have been able to investigate human tissue with such precision that metal ions, particularly iron levels, in and around individual cells can be mapped.

"The technique is pioneering in that it does not change the distribution or form of the metals in the tissue being studied."

She added that she hopes that the team's research may aid doctors in finding early signs of Parkinson's with a MRI.

"Early diagnosis is key because we know that by the time a typical individual presents with the symptoms of the disease, chemical changes have already caused significant cell death of vulnerable motor neurons," Collingwood noted.


Image Caption: Aerial shot of Diamond. The striking silver building houses all three particle accelerators, and takes up the area of five football fields. Diamond Light Source


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