South Australian researchers are investigating how to better use MRI brain imaging to diagnose Parkinsons’s disease.

Associate Professor Gabrielle Todd

Researchers from the University of South Australia and Flinders Medical Centre are using the latest MRI technology to visualise the region of the brain known as the substantia nigra, which loses neurons in people with the disease.

Associate Professor Gabrielle Todd from UniSA Clinical and Health Sciences says some PET and SPECT scans can already do this, but these methods require the patient to be injected with radioactive substances.

They are also costly and access to them limited, and they have a high misdiagnosis rate.

In contrast, MRI is safe, widely available and doesn’t require injection with radioactive substance, Associate Professor Todd says.

Her team is working to improve the accuracy of MRI imaging in Parkinson’s patients, will make it possible for more centres and hospitals to perform the diagnostic procedure.

They are recruiting newly diagnosed patients with Parkinson’s disease and healthy adults to undergo a brain MRI as well as movement, memory, and cognitive function tests.

“Collectively, we hope to make it easier for radiologists to learn about and interpret abnormal substantia nigra MRI findings and to provide neurologists with more certainty about the patient diagnosis,” she says.  

There is currently no definitive diagnostic test or cure for the  neurodegenerative brain disease, which affects around 70,000 Australians.  

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