Rights: The University of Waikato Published 21 July 2007 Download

Dr Richard Watts from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Canterbury talks about using MRI to look at the brains of patients with Parkinson'€™s disease.

Richard and a team at the Van der Veer Institute for Parkinson’s & Brain Research are interested in a subset of patients who go on to develop dementia. He is working with a range of professionals, including neurologists, radiologists and psychologists, as well as using the MRI to better understand the disease.


We’re looking at a whole bunch of techniques and it’s amazing the flexibility that MRI gives you. You don’t just generate a single set of images with a single contrast. You can generate a huge number of different images which are sensitive to different things. So for instance in these Parkinson’s patients, we’re doing some structural imaging. Structural is just a high resolution imaging where we can look at the sizes of different structures in the brain. We’re also doing diffusion imaging. Diffusion is looking at how water moves within the brain, and this is very sensitive to the small scale structures within the brain. It’s sensitive to structures of sizes of about ten microns or so which corresponds nicely with the sizes of cells. So we can look at cellular changes using diffusion MRI.

We’re also interested in looking at functional changes. So as you develop dementia you may have problems with your memory. And we want to see which parts of the brain are having problems there. So we can do functional MRI to identify those parts of the brain, associated with memory and which parts are working properly and which parts are not working properly. We can do what we call spectroscopy, and that allows us to say well how much of this chemical is here. And that gives us an idea of whether we have normal functioning of the brain cells or whether it’s not normal, whether there’s a, maybe a lack of blood supply or something.