A new brain imaging scanner will enable researchers to ‘see’ into the brain with unprecedented detail. Thanks to a generous $3 million donation from the Courtois Foundation, The Neuro‘s McConnell Brain Imaging Centre (BIC) will be the world's first R&D centre for a revolutionary new technology that will significantly advance brain research and understanding of neurological diseases.
Ultra-high resolution scanner – new information about the brain
The ultra high-resolution Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner gives researchers the ability to see into the brain at a spatial resolution of 1.3 mm3, double the resolution of the best existing technology. ”This is game-changing because researchers will be able to ask new scientific questions, as this scanner allows us to focus precisely on very small areas of the central nervous system,” says Dr. Jean-Paul Soucy, Medical Director of The Neuro’s PET unit. The scanner, not yet on the market, is a Quebec innovation being developed in partnership with Dr. Roger Lecomte at the Université de Sherbrooke.
Why it matters: small regions of the brain, big players in function and disease
PET imaging is critical for research into neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. For example, PET can detect early signs of Alzheimer’s in the brain, before the beginning of the symptoms, allowing the preclinical diagnosis of the disease. PET is also used for research into improving the accuracy of cancer diagnosis, mental illness, psychiatry, addictions, cerebrovascular diseases, neuroinflammatory diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis, brain development, as well as study of the normal function of the brain.
The new ultra-high resolution PET scanner will be able to detect tiny anomalies in the brain that appear early during a disease process, and to quantify activity in very small structures in the brain and brain stem, providing better assessment of normal and pathological changes in brain activity. This information will provide powerful new insights into normal brain function and the mechanisms of neurological disease. The information on molecular activity obtained by the PET scanner will also help identify biomarkers to enable the earlier detection of diseases.
Pioneering brain imaging research and patient care
“The Neuro’s ambitious vision to accelerate the pace of discoveries and make a positive impact on patient health, requires partnerships with visionary philanthropists,” says Dr. Guy Rouleau, Director of The Neuro. “The exemplary support of the Courtois Foundation is contributing to the advancement of neuroscience by ensuring that The Neuro continues to be a world pioneer in brain imaging and is at the leading edge of tackling fundamental questions about the brain and disease, thanks to the capabilities of this new technology.”
This is the latest in many imaging firsts for The Neuro. Researchers at The Neuro’s BIC were among the first in the world to develop and build a PET unit for clinical and research use in 1975. PET technology is now used world-wide in research and medicine. The Neuro also acquired Canada’s first computerized tomography (CAT) scanner, first medical cyclotron and first magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) unit. This year, The Neuro acquired Canada’s first 7-Tesla whole-body MRI scanner.
“The Neuro beat out other global competitors to be chosen as the world’s first R&D centre, because of the internationally-renowned expertise and high-level infrastructures we have here at the BIC,” says Dr. Julien Doyon, Director of the BIC. “Through The Neuro’s Open Science approach, we are sharing our research results with scientists all around the world, in order to accelerate the transfer of discoveries to benefit patients and have broad societal impact.”
The Courtois Foundation supports projects that will benefit the community and as such is proud to support the work of The Neuro, a one-of-a-kind resource in Quebec and Canada that has pushed the boundaries to achieve fundamental progress in neuroscience and positively impact the lives of patients.
Brain Imaging Centre – approaching the brain from all angles
The BIC houses 6 multimodal imaging core units: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and PET for both human and animal model studies; magnetoencephalography/electroencephalography (MEG/EEG) for investigating humans in health and disease), as well as a Neuroinformatics including comprehensive high-performance computing and data storage resources, and prominent expertise in biomedical image and signal analysis. More than 200 faculty, students and support staff focus their work on exploring and understanding the many facets of brain function: genetics, molecular biology, cognitive neuroscience and advanced neuro-informatics. Currently, there is no institution in the world that offers this spectrum of multi-modal technology to brain imaging researchers working across disciplines, disease areas and specialties.
PET is a non-invasive imaging technology that uses radiotracers (a molecule linked to radioactive material) which are injected, swallowed or inhaled, and accumulate in the area of the body being examined. The emissions from the radiotracer are detected by a special camera that produces pictures and provides molecular information. For example, PET scans are used to visualize tumours in cancer diagnosis. A common radiotracer is 18FDG, a molecule similar to glucose. Cancer cells absorb glucose at a higher rate, as they are more metabolically active. This higher emission of radiation from the cancer cells allows PET scans to visualize the tumour.