Spinocerebellar ataxias: Advanced imaging with ultra-high field MRI

The spinocerebellar ataxias (SCAs) are inherited disorders that are clinically characterized by progressive loss of balance and coordination. The SCAIFIELD project aims at establishing quantitative ultra-high field MRI biomarkers for polyglutamine SCAs with high potential for detecting early disease manifestation and monitoring progression.

The SCAIFIELD consortium consists of researchers from Germany, Belgium, Norway and Turkey and is actively supported by the Euro-ataxia patient organization (see Consortium). The project is funded under the aegis of the EU Joint Programme – Neurodegenerative Disease Research (JPND) (see Funding).

Duration:           3 years (2021-2024)
Total funding:   1.4 Mio. €
Coordinator:     Prof Dr Tony Stöcker, German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Project summary

The spinocerebellar ataxias (SCAs) are a group of rare neurological inherited disorders that affect balance, coordination and speech.  In patients with the disease, structural brain changes occur and are predominantly found in the cerebellum. In neurodegenerative diseases, such structural changes are determined using brain imaging techniques. The structural changes in the brain are often used to evaluate the efficacy of a new medication in interventional drug trials. In the case of SCAs this could mean, for example, that an effective treatment could slow down volume decrease of the cerebellum. However, with currently available imaging methods it is challenging to image the cerebellum – the part of the brain particularly relevant in SCAs. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with extraordinary field strength – so called ultra-high-field MRI – improves the image resolution and provides additional imaging possibilities over current more commonly used methods. In this project, ultra-high-field MRI is used to visualize the structural brain alterations in SCAs with a higher sensitivity, focusing on the cerebellum and brainstem as a methodological preparation of future interventional clinical trials. Application of ultra-high field MRI in SCAs will mark a breakthrough with direct benefit for SCA patients and their families.

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