Synapses in the brain are the connections between neurons that allow them to communicate with one another. In a healthy brain at least, that’s how chemical signals are successfully passed between cells. The deterioration of these synapses is one of the telltale signs of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurodegenerative conditions.
That said, up until now, there’s been no way to measure the density of an individual’s synapses without an invasive and dangerous procedure to retrieve a tissue sample. That means there’s no way to continuously monitor the state of synapses throughout the treatment process of someone with a neurological disease.
If we were able to monitor the brain’s synapses in real-time, we would be able to more accurately see how a patient is responding to a particular treatment, and if needed, adjust the treatment to better serve the patient. Additionally, it could significantly improve the way we diagnosis neurological conditions, and we all know that early diagnosis usually means better outcomes for patients.
Rodin Therapeutics is in the process of testing a new imaging system that would help us to actually visualize synapses non-invasively.
The imaging system
The imaging agent Rodin Therapeutics is testing is a radiotracer, or a very small amount of radioactive material, called [11C]UCB-J. It evaluates the chemical signals going on between synapses, and along with the use of a small camera and a computer, can determine the density of the synapses themselves.
In order to test this new system, they are conducting a trial with both healthy participants and those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. These individuals will be scanned with the imaging system once at the beginning of the trial, and once 28 days after its start. These two scans will then be evaluated and any change in density will be documented.
There’s currently no cure for Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, but this new imaging technology could help speed up the research process as we continue to search for a cure. Once a new therapy is discovered, its impact on the brain’s synapses can be accurately tracked and the therapy can either be approved as a treatment, or ruled as not viable very quickly.
“This tool has the potential to shape future clinical trials by offering an early signal about whether an investigational drug is driving molecular and structural changes in the brain.” – Philip Scheltens
You can read more about this new technology here, and stay tuned for the results of this phase 1b clinical trial!