MRI has greatly improved the visualization of changes in the central nervous system, but how do these changes relate to changes in the underlying tissue microstructure? A European Research Area Network (ERA-NET) funded project coordinated by Prof. Armin Curt and Dr. Patrick Freund (Balgrist University Hospital) and with Dr. Jan Klohs (IBT, University of Zurich and ETH Zurich) as one of the project leaders, aims at better understanding these changes.
The EU selected the consortium “Understanding the mechanisms of atrophy associated with spinal cord injury: the application of MRI-based in vivo histology and ex vivo histology” for funding under the ERA-NET NEURON framework. The project formed during a UCL-ZNZ workshop that took place at the Balgrist Hospital in the fall of 2014.
The consortium aims at understanding the mechanisms of atrophy (shrinkage of tissue) associated with spinal cord injury by applying novel magnetic resonance imaging techniques. After a traumatic spinal cord injury extensive morphometric changes (i.e. atrophy) occur throughout the first year after injury within the central nervous system above the level of the lesion. The extent of this atrophy is correlated with the degree of clinical impairment of the patient. The (micro-) structural processes that may underlie these observed morphometric changes are however not understood. The consortium will apply quantitative magnetic resonance imaging techniques to establish the missing link between measured MRI signals and the underlying tissue microstructure. Methodological developments include the set-up of sophisticated data acquisition schemes and the use of advanced biophysical models. Validation of the methods will be performed with preclinical models of spinal cord injury. The novel imaging technology promises to improve the diagnosis, separation of patients into specific groups (stratification) and therapy and could also help in designing more targeted clinical trials by stratifying patient cohorts making such trials more efficient and less expensive.
Groups involved in the consortium
The consortium is coordinated by Armin Curt and Patrick Freund (Balgrist University Hospital), and Jan Klohs (Institute for Biomedical Engineering, University of Zurich and ETH) participates as a project leader. Other partners are from the Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf (Germany), the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London (UK), the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig (Germany) and the Wroclaw Medical University (Poland).
- ERA-NET Neuron “External Insults to the Nervous System”
- Balgrist University Hospital
- Pre-clinical imaging group website
- Project description
Freund P, Weiskopf N, Ashburner J, Wolf K, Sutter R, Altmann DR, Friston K, Thompson A, Curt A. MRI investigation of the sensorimotor cortex and the corticospinal tract after acute spinal cord injury: a prospective longitudinal study. Lancet Neurol. 2013;12(9):873-881. Paper
Image: Overlay of statistical parametric maps showing areas of volume changes after spinal cord injury. (Courtesy of Dr. Patrick Freund)