For his research, Alois Alzheimer had to rely on hand drawings and the traditional light microscope. Today, imaging techniques are available, of which the discoverer of Alzheimer’s disease would not have dared to dream. “Brain scans”, as provided by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or positron emission tomography (PET), make it possible to explore the structure and function of the brain. It is even possible, so to speak, to watch how humans think and to detect disease relevant molecules. These methods therefore not only deliver impressive images, but also quantifiable research data.
„The DZNE operates state-of-the-art imaging methods at its different sites. These methods are routinely used both in fundamental research as well as in clinical research”, professor Düzel says. Besides „molecular imaging“, which focusses on molecules, the DZNE is also conducting “human Imaging” on a large scale. Here, the focus is on the human brain. “We explore the nervous system and disease processes at different scales ranging from molecules to large brain networks. By means of the National Neuroimaging Network we want to coordinate these activities even more closely”, Düzel says.
A nationwide infrastructure of brain scanners
Magnetic resonance imaging is pioneering the process, the neuroscientist emphasizes. “Our clinical study centers, in which subjects are examined by MRI are distributed across Germany. Therefore, we developed standard operating procedures for MRI. Thus, we can directly compare data that was obtained by different brain scanners.” At present, more than 800 participants are involved in such studies on a nationwide scale, Düzel explains.
All sites where the DZNE is running clinical studies in collaboration with university hospitals (Berlin, Bonn, Dresden, Göttingen, Magdeburg, München, Rostock/Greifswald und Tübingen) are involved in the National Neuroimaging Network. The DZNE is operating its own brain scanners at some of these sites as well as benefiting from devices run by partner institutions.
Both at Bonn and Magdeburg in addition to conventional MRI scanners, so-called 7-Tesla scanners are available. Of these less than ten exist in Germany, which are certified for human studies. Such “high-field scanners” reveal even more brain details than conventional MRI machines. Furthermore, in Magdeburg a brain scanner is also operated, that combines MRI and PET methodology.
Objective: better medical options
„The aim is to join forces in order to pave the way for better diagnostic methods and new therapies”, Düzel emphasizes. “The DZNE with its various sites and its nationwide network of partners, in particular in the field of university hospitals, is an ideal platform for this. In addition, we are open for further cooperation.”
The German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) investigates the causes of diseases of the nervous system and develops strategies for prevention, treatment and care. It is an institution within the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres with nine sites across Germany (Berlin, Bonn, Dresden, Göttingen, Magdeburg, Munich, Rostock/Greifswald, Tübingen and Witten). The DZNE cooperates closely with universities, their clinics and other research facilities.