Sunday, July 15, 2012

The role of technology in research

MDA’s Quest Magazine had an interesting article by Richard Robinson this month. “Seeing is Understanding” is about the use of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to illuminate muscle and nerve to speed research and aid clinical trials.

The article states that “for neuromuscular disease researchers, new developments in imaging muscles and nerves are bringing new understanding of both healthy tissue and disease processes. These imaging techniques are allowing researchers for the first time to look deep within the body to track disease and to monitor the response the response to new therapies. They also have the potential to reduce the need for uncomfortable biopsies, to increase the speed and accuracy of diagnosis, and even to reduce the number of animals needed to conduct neuromuscular disease research.”


The advantages of using an MRI are discussed in the article.
  1. Versus a biopsy, it provides an image of the entire muscle. With a biopsy, there is no guarantee that the tiny portion sampled will adequately represent the entire muscle.
  2. Imaging can be done quite often. This becomes an advantage when studying a progressive disorder.
  3. Imaging may provide important clinical information much earlier … before measurable weakness is observed. An MRI can detect muscle changes before doctors can see a change of function.
  4. A MRI makes it possible to look at multiple muscles simultaneously. Since the disease may progress more aggressively in one muscle group, the ability to capture change in several areas means a more accurate picture of the entire body. It also offers a better opportunity to see if there is a response to therapy in one area versus another.
  5. Imaging may be the best way to test therapies with a small number of patients. The benefit here is determining whether anything is beneficial to a small number of patients without having the burden and expense of a full clinical trial.
And, one advantage for animal lovers is that there should be a need for fewer animals. Normally there is a need to study large numbers of mice (mouse models) to compensate for individual variations. Whole-body imaging in live mice avoids this problem because researchers can see the entire muscular system. And, best of all, imaging can be done without sacrificing the animal which often has to be done by other current methods.

The article ends by comments that ten years ago the technology was very primitive. Each year speed and technology improves meaning usage and advancements will also accelerate.

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