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A team of Stanford scientists has developed an entirely non-invasive technique that provides a view of blood flow in the brain. The tool could provide powerful insights into strokes and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.

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This illustration shows how carbon nanotubes, once injected into the subject, can be fluoresced using near-infrared light in order to visualize the brain vasculature and track cerebral blood flow. Courtesy Dai Lab

Some of the most damaging brain diseases can be traced to irregular blood delivery in the brain. Now, Stanford chemists have employed lasers and carbon nanotubes to capture an unprecedented look at blood flowing through a living brain.

The technique was developed for mice but could one day be applied to humans, potentially providing vital information in the study of stroke and migraines, and perhaps even Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The work is described in the journal Nature Photonics.

Current procedures for exploring the brain in living animals face significant tradeoffs. Surgically removing part of the skull offers a clear view of activity at the cellular level. But the trauma can alter the function or activity of the brain or even stimulate an immune response. Meanwhile, non-invasive techniques such as CT scans or MRI visualize function best at the whole-organ level; they cannot visualize individual vessels or groups of neurons.

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By Dr Llewellyn Cox, Principal, LieuLabs

The Headlines:

Blood test predicts Alzheimer’s disease — CNN

Blood test could detect early signs of dementia, scientists say — The Guardian

Blood test can predict Alzheimer’s, say researchers— BBC

The Science:

What is Alzheimer’s Disease? Alzheimer’s is an irreversible loss of function in the brains of older adults that destroys memory and thinking skills to the point that patients eventually lose the ability to carry out everyday functions and care for themselves. It is the most common form of dementia (an umbrella term for age-related loss of memory and intellectual abilities) in older Americans, with over 5 million estimated current patients (NIA), and up to 35 million worldwide.

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