A new study from the Robarts Research Institute has found a better way to use MRI scans to detect and possibly follow the progress of multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases.

The research, led by Dr. Ravi Menon and published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used a specific approach to MRIs that appear to do a better job of diagnosing and tracking the disease.

Called quantitative susceptibility mapping, the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) helps better measure myelin content (white matter in the brain that protects the nerve fibers) and iron deposits in the brain, which are indicators of MS.

Using rats, the research team found that the direction of the MRI signal has an impact, and scanning at different angles led to a better understanding of how to read the data.

In a statement, Menon said “With this methodology, we now have a quantitative way to interpret myelin and iron concentrations, and in particular, any changes to them over time.”

He added that the scans allow researchers to distinguish between white matter degeneration and other changes like iron deposition, which look the same with regular MRIs.

The next step for the researchers is to use the new imaging approach to study changes in the brain and determine if they can predict the progression of MS.