- GE’s prototype head-only MRI scanner, which delivers an unprecedented combination of gradient strength and slew rates 3-4X faster than conventional MRI scanners, could enable the first non-invasive methods for observing the brain’s glymphatic pathway, whose function has been linked to sleep disorders and brain illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
- The glymphatic pathway removes metabolic waste, or helps “clear your head,” and has been shown in pre-clinical studies to be especially active during deep sleep
- A team of researchers from GE and Uniformed Services University (USU) will conduct a sleep study with military personnel that include both healthy sleepers and sleep-deprived individuals
- According to recent studies, over 70% of active-duty warfighters, on average, sleep less than six hours per night, and even fewer hours while deployed.
- Project is being funded through a two- and a half year, U.S. Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) partnering grant to GE ($2.5 million) and USU ($0.9 million).
NISKAYUNA, NY, and WASHINGTON D.C. – November 17, 2022 – GE Research, together with the Uniformed Services University (USU), the U.S. government’s health sciences university, has launched a new study funded by the U.S. Department of Defense that could yield new insights into the effects of sleep deprivation on human performance and brain health.
The joint research team will use GE’s experimental high performance brain Microstructure Anatomy Gradient for Neuroimaging with Ultrafast Scanning (MAGNUS) MRI system to visualize the ultra-slow flow of cerebrospinal fluid through the brain’s glymphatic pathway, in vivo and non-invasively for the first time. The team already has been conducting a parallel study with the MAGNUS system to discover novel imaging signatures of mild TBI.
Glymphatic circulation has been shown to remove metabolic waste from the brain that can otherwise accumulate in it. It’s the brain’s way of detoxing or “clearing one’s head.” Following more than a decade of studies, researchers believe that disruptions in this waste removal process, which is primarily active during sleep, could be linked to person’s increased long-term risk of developing neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Using GE’s experimental MAGNUS MRI system, GE and USU researchers hope to enable the first non-invasive method to measure glymphatic flow that could enhance our understanding of the effects of poor sleep.
“For several years now, researchers have believed there is a direct link between poor quality of sleep and dysfunction of the brain’s glymphatic pathway,” said Dr. Luca Marinelli, Senior Principal Scientist, and project leader, from GE Research. “Using GE’s experimental high performance brain imaging platform, MAGNUS, we’re aiming to non-invasively measure and visualize glymphatic circulation with high velocity and spatial resolution never previously achieved. The hope is that MAGNUS will open our eyes to some of the potential damaging effects to brain health of sleep disorders that are plaguing too many of our military personnel and tens of millions of others who are not able to get a good night’s rest.”
Dr. Kent Werner, who is leading the study for USU, said, “Sleep is a top priority for the military for maximizing human performance, having widespread impact on cognitive, physical, and immunological domains. This project will open new insights into sleep physiology, which has significant clinical and operational implications, offering opportunities to potentially enhance sleep on the battlefield and improve dysfunctional sleep in the clinic.”
The imaging during sleep study will be conducted at a major military treatment facility in the US where the MAGNUS MRI system, developed under a separate CDMRP grant (W81XWH-16-2-0054), is already deployed and being used for an ongoing mild TBI study. The recently funded study will involve a group of military personnel and shift workers that include a mix of good sleepers and sleep deprived subjects. Having a mix of both will allow GE and USU researchers to compare and contrast any differences in efficiency of the glymphatic pathway that they hope will yield new insights on the effects of poor sleep on the brain.
Using the MAGNUS MRI system, GE and USU researchers hope to map and measure a map of ultra-slow cerebrospinal fluid flow in the brain over an entire sleep cycle that cannot be achieved with clinical MRI systems today. This experimental high performance brain imaging platform will deliver an unprecedented combination of gradient strength and slew rate, which are both critical determinants in producing exquisite image quality flow velocity resolution from which rich diagnostic information content can be gleaned.
Unlike previous attempts to visualize glymphatic flow, which have involved more invasive methods such as the injection of contrast agents via a spinal tap with MR imaging to observe cerebrospinal fluid flow through the brain, the proposed approach is truly non-invasive and potentially scalable to large populations with minimal risk.
According to the Sleep Foundation, adults aged 18-64 require 7-9 hours of sleep while those over 65 require 7-8 hours. The Foundation estimates that more than 35% of all adults in the US are getting less than 7 hours and not getting the proper rest they need. And with the military active-duty warfighter population, the stats are even more troublesome. More than 70% of active-duty warfighters, on average, get less than six hours of sleep per night.
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“ The U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity, 820 Chandler Street, Fort Detrick MD 21702-5014 is the awarding and administering acquisition office and this work was supported by The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs endorsed by the Department of Defense, through the Defense Health Program, Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program, Investigator-Initiated Research Award – Partnering PI (Principal Investigator) Option, in the amount of $2,509,233, under Award No. W81XWH2220038, and $910,559 under Award No. W81XWH-22-2-0037. MAGNUS also was developed under a separate CDMRP grant under Award No. W81XWH-16-2-0054 in the amount of $5,372,359. Opinions, interpretations, conclusions and recommendations are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs endorsed by the Department of Defense.”