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Celebrating a Research Milestone

Expanding Cognitive Aging and Dementia Research through Imaging

Receiving an accurate dementia diagnosis can take time. Specialized quantitative brain imaging is becoming increasingly important for improving the process of obtaining an accurate dementia diagnosis. Additionally, these state-of-the-art brain scans help to identify people at risk for Alzheimer’s and related dementias, and to review the effectiveness of interventions. 

For more than 20 years, the Mesulam Center has been able to obtain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) through research projects funded by the National Institutes of Health. In 2018 the imaging infrastructure at the Center was enhanced by adding an Imaging Core to our  Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA). 

Prior to the establishment of the Imaging Core, only 60% of the center’s research participants had one MR scan. Less than three years since the Imaging Core was established, the team has been able to contribute over 100 brain scans, a major contribution to cognitive aging and dementia research. Research Coordinator Abbey Page said she is very proud of the team’s work to hit this milestone.

“It takes a monumental effort to get one participant screened, interested, scheduled, and successfully through a neuroimaging scan, so to do it more than 100 times, it means a lot.”

As part of a national network of centers funded by the NIA, these scans are used locally in research at the Mesulam Center, but also shared with a national database that includes more than 40,000 participants. Through the database, in addition to scans, scientists can access family medical history, cognitive status, and more. The accessibility of this robust data enables scientists from around the country to work toward our common goal of understanding and finding a treatment for dementia. 

This work is possible thanks to volunteers who agree to participate in research at the Center. Like with brain donation, center research participants can decide to opt in to having an MRI or one of two types of positron emission tomography (PET) scans — one that identifies the tau protein in the brain and one that identifies the amyloid protein. It takes about two hours of a participant’s time for an MRI and three and a half hours for a PET scan.

These images are Amyloid PET scans. One on the left shows little to no amyloid binding and the one on the right shows high amyloid binding.


Sel Yackley, a research participant in the Clinical Core study, has completed all three scans. As a participant in the center’s research for 15 years, Yackley said she feels it is her duty as a human being to be involved in research studies. “Being involved in studies is beneficial not only to me, but to humanity.” 

She attributes some of her involvement in research studies to her parents, who raised her to always be curious and help others. “It’s just a little bit of my time, that’s all,” she noted about research participation and the imaging component. “I believe in the fact that we are on the earth to help each other and find solutions.”

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