In DepthMedical Imaging

Clever math enables MRI to map biomolecules

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Science  22 Mar 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6433, pp. 1263
DOI: 10.1126/science.363.6433.1263

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MRI scanners can map a person's innards in exquisite detail, but they say little about composition. Now, physicists are pushing MRI to a new realm of sensitivity to trace specific biomolecules in tissues, a capability that could aid in diagnosing Alzheimer's and other diseases. The advance springs not from improved scanners, but from better methods to solve a notoriously difficult math problem and extract information already latent in MRI data. Researchers are already using the new techniques to trace a fatty molecule called myelin in the brains of people with multiple sclerosis, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer's disease. They also show that the scans can trace a molecule called proteoglycan in knee cartilage. Before the new scans can be used to diagnose specific diseases, they must be validated against clinical data and tissue samples. But some researchers think the techniques will appear in the clinic within 5 years.