Scientific research has discovered that Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) methods may detect biomarkers for early diagnosis in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) patients. This is going by a review study looking into the value of MRI as a biomarker for ALS: a systematic review published in BMC Neurology journal.
MRI comprises of multiple scanning techniques which can be used for studying ALS-related changes in the brain and spinal cord. Biomarkers are seen to be measurable substances including chemical changes in the blood or changes in tissues which can be linked to a given disease such as ALS. Additionally, they can also be employed in monitoring the progression of a disease and are significant tools to recognition of the effectiveness of a therapy.
ALS in its nature is difficult to detect in its early stages and as it is it takes approximately one year to diagnose an individual with the disease. Moreover, the assessment of the success rate of a treatment is dependent on the ALS Functional Rating Scale (ALSFRS), varied motor tests and survival time of ALS patients as late stage measures.
There is an urgent need for early detection of ALS has been noted by researchers. In this respect, a potentially useful approach to discover distinct biomarkers and early detection of the disease may be through MRI methods.
In conducting the review, researchers went through 116 different MRI studies that assessed ALS patients. The team sought out connections between MRI anomalies and clinical scores of the ALSFRS.
It was noted that the most particular changes of the disease were atrophy, that is, a breakdown of tissue, in the motor region of the brain more so along the Corticospinal Tract (CST). The CST is more of a neuron pathway that conducts impulses from the brain to the muscles. The patients with advanced atrophy exhibited more severe clinical symptoms linking the MRI findings with the scores of the ALSFSR.
One of the MRI techniques is called functional MRI, that is, (fMRI) which measures the level of activity in various parts of the brain. An abnormally high level of activity was established in the motor region of the brain proposing that there was an overcompensation for the atrophy and loss of neurons. The atrophy was also seen in the frontal lobes of the brain regulating voluntary movements and controlling mental abilities and social behaviour.
The atrophy in the frontal lobes could lead to Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD). Approximately 50 percent of ALS patients exhibit some impairment in cognitive abilities and nearly 20 percent show symptoms of FTD. The personality changes occur due to FTD and may be associated with increased impulsiveness, apathy and inappropriate social behaviour.
On a positive note, MRI techniques appear to be a promising tool to detect biomarkers that could be used to diagnose ALS as soon as possible enabling patients to commence treatment earlier. It could also be worthy in the formulation and development of new therapies going by researchers’ point of view. However, further studies are required to ascertain the use of MRI methods.