Page last updated at 10:39 GMT, Saturday, 14 February 2009

Light 'could detect Parkinson's'

The technique allows researchers to map iron levels in individual brain cells

A light as bright as a million-watt bulb could help improve the treatment of Parkinson's disease.

A Keele University team told a conference that the "super-microscope" could spot changes in brain cells caused by Parkinson's

Keele's Dr Joanna Collingwood hopes the information will eventually be used to speed up diagnosis.

She gave details of the study to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

'Early diagnosis'

Dr Collingwood said the team had been using a synchrotron at the Diamond Light Source (DLS) at Harwell, Oxfordshire.

The device is a large doughnut-shaped particle accelerator, the size of five football pitches, which fires particles at just below the speed of light, focusing them into a beam less than a single cell in diameter.

It allows researchers to to observe iron levels in individual brain cells, which are affected by Parkinson's.

Dr Collingwood told the AAAS conference in Chicago: "We have been able to investigate human tissue with such precision that metal ions, particularly iron levels, in and around individual cells can be mapped.

"The technique is pioneering in that it does not change the distribution or form of the metals in the tissue being studied."

She said she hoped that the team's work could help doctors detect early signs of Parkinson's using MRI.

"Early diagnosis is key because we know that by the time a typical individual presents with the symptoms of the disease, chemical changes have already caused significant cell death of vulnerable motor neurons," she added.

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