Acidity in the brain could hold the key to stroke treatment

Development of a new technique for detecting brain damage caused by stroke has been boosted up by a £1m grant to scientists at The University of Manchester.

Professor Gareth Morris of the School of Chemistry and Professor Risto Kauppinen of the University of Birmingham are to lead the development of a new non-invasive technique which measures acidity (pH) in the brain.

A stroke is caused when part of the blood supply to the brain is cut off. This causes acidity in the brain to build up, leading to damage.

CT scans are currently used to detect bleeding, swelling and tumours in the brain, but the visibility of soft tissue is very limited, making damage difficult to detect.

Professors Morris and Kauppinen will use advanced Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) technologies to allow MRI scanners to create detailed images of pH in the brain.

The images will be used to compare healthy (neutral, pH 7) and damaged (acidic, lower pH) areas of the brain, and to measure how the pH of the brain changes over time, with the aim of providing more targeted and effective treatments.

Professor Morris said: “Within two to three years we hope to have developed an NMR technique which can be translated into a machine that can image acidity in the brain.

“If we can map stroke damage accurately, doctors will have a better chance to provide more targeted and effective treatment. Current techniques often only enable one to see damage once it is too late to intervene.”

NMR will be used to measure the rate at which hydrogen ions are exchanged between water and proteins in the brain. Acidity causes this rate to increase, changing the NMR signal of water.

The grant, from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will fund three new NMR instruments in the university's School of Chemistry, which is the second largest university Chemistry department in the UK and one of the largest in Europe. The new instruments will also support a wide range of other developments in organic, inorganic and materials chemistry.

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