New laser-based tool maps how drug abuse affects brain

Washington | Updated: Aug 30 2014, 20:16pm hrs
Scientists have developed a laser-based imaging tool to map how drug abuse disrupts blood flow to the brain.

A new method for measuring and imaging how quickly blood flows in the brain could help doctors and researchers better understand how drug abuse affects the brain, which may aid in improving brain-cancer surgery and tissue engineering, and lead to better treatment options for recovering drug addicts.

Researchers from Stony Brook University in New York, and the US National Institutes of Health, demonstrated their technique by using a laser-based method of measuring how cocaine disrupts blood flow in the brains of mice.

The resulting images are the first of their kind that directly and clearly document such effects, according to co-author Yingtian Pan, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Stony Brook University.

"We show that quantitative flow imaging can provide a lot of useful physiological and functional information that we haven't had access to before," he said.

Drugs such as cocaine can cause aneurysm - like bleeding and strokes, but the exact details of what happens to the brain's blood vessels have remained elusive - partly because current imaging tools are limited in what they can see, Pan said.

But using their new and improved methods, the team was able to observe exactly how cocaine affects the tiny blood vessels in a mouse's brain.

The images show that after 30 days of chronic cocaine injection or even after just repeated acute injection of cocaine, there's a dramatic drop in blood flow speed.

The researchers were, for the first time, able to identify cocaine-induced microischemia, when blood flow is shut down - a precursor to a stroke.

Measuring blood flow is crucial for understanding how the brain is working, whether you're a brain surgeon or a neuroscientist studying how drugs or disease influence brain physiology, metabolism and function, Pan said.

The study was published in the journal Biomedical Optics Express.