In a break­through devel­op­ment for early drug research, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity sci­en­tists are now able to test, in real time, the impact of new drugs being devel­oped to treat neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

A patented new imaging tech­nology devel­oped by Northeastern’s Center for Trans­la­tional Neu­roImaging (CTNI) enables researchers to pro­duce highly accu­rate data without resorting to tra­di­tional pre­clin­ical testing methods. Those methods involve euth­a­nizing lab­o­ra­tory ani­mals at dif­ferent stages of the study to assess dis­ease pro­gres­sion and the effec­tive­ness of the drug.

Animal imaging is cru­cial in early drug dis­covery, but the use of anes­thesia cre­ates an arti­fi­cial sit­u­a­tion that can mask true drug activity,” said Craig Ferris, CTNI director and pro­fessor of psy­chology and phar­ma­ceu­tical sci­ences. “Studying awake ani­mals leads to improved drug safety eval­u­a­tions and data accuracy.”

Ferris noted the testing they are now able to per­form at CTNI max­i­mizes accu­racy and leads to improved drug devel­op­ment processes for phar­ma­ceu­tical and biotech­nology com­pa­nies that are working to treat cen­tral ner­vous system dis­eases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

The center’s imaging-​​based pre­clin­ical testing is per­formed under the aegis of a new busi­ness ven­ture, called Ekam Imaging, Inc., founded by a team that includes Ferris and Graham Jones, pro­fessor and chair of the depart­ment of chem­istry and chem­ical biology at Northeastern.

The tech­nology has spawned eight patents focused on the imaging of ani­mals and a new method for tag­ging drugs using microwave-​​mediated organic syn­thesis tech­nology. This pro­ce­dure allows injected com­pounds to be more accu­rately tracked and eval­u­ated for efficacy.

Addi­tion­ally, the center uses advanced data-​​analysis tech­niques, including three-​​dimensional brain “atlases” used for data visu­al­iza­tion, and imaging models of var­ious dis­ease conditions.

The advan­tages of our tech­nology give researchers the ability to pro­vide infor­ma­tion and analysis to drug com­pa­nies that enable them to make more informed go/​no-​​go deci­sions on their drug devel­op­ment pro­grams,” added Ferris. “It will help reduce the time to market for new ther­a­peu­tics and lower the overall cost of drug development.”