Eyedrops that Probe the Brain
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
By dosing mice with eyedrops containing gene probes that then travel to the brain, Harvard researchers are using magnetic resonance imaging to observe the brains of living animals. The method could allow doctors to directly diagnose problems such as tumors, viral infections, and head injury, without the need for a brain biopsy. It could also be useful in monitoring patients and perhaps even targeting drug treatment to affected areas of the brain. The gene probe technique, reported in the latest issue of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal, allows MRI scans that show gliosis, the process in which glial cells in the brain form a fibrous network as a defense against damage. This scarring occurs in disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease and as a consequence of brain tumors and serious brain injury. The work is "really a good start," says Monique Stins, a visiting scientist at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, who was not involved in the research. However, she adds, "It's still far from the bedside. The safety of all these kinds of probes still has to be assessed."