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A Sharper Image

Using Cutting-Edge Imaging Technology, Andrew Newberg, MD, and Jefferson’s Integrative Health Team Are Developing a Better Understanding of Complex Neurological Problems

Andrew Newberg, MD

Andrew Newberg, MD, holds board certifications in internal and nuclear medicine. But his “claim to fame,” as he likes to say, is for his neuro-imaging research on patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Dr. Newberg, who began the neuro-imaging studies at the University of Pennsylvania, caught the attention of Daniel A. Monti, MD. The senior vice president and director of the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Jefferson Hospital invited Newberg to attend the institute’s grand rounds.

“We got to talking and, at the time, Dr. Monti had a National Institutes of Health grant that was looking at a mindfulness therapy program that he helped design,” Newberg says. “He had a supplemental grant to use imaging with it, but he couldn’t do the imaging at Jefferson.”

The two physicians worked out a deal where Monti would send patients for neuro-imaging to Newberg. It wasn’t long into their collaboration before the two physicians realized that they enjoyed working together. 

“As he and I like to tell the story, I said to him that it would be great to do more,” Newberg recalls. “He said, ‘Well, I can’t really come over to Penn.’ I said that I was thinking about making a move and would love to come over to Jefferson and work with you. He helped make that fall into place.”

Nine years later, Newberg and the Integrative Health team have conducted an array of medically significant neuro-imaging research studies. Along with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, the team has used neuro-imaging to investigate multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, concussions, and irritable bowel syndrome.

“For all of them, we use some form of imaging to help document what the mechanism of action is in the different things that we do in integrative medicine,” says Newberg, now the director of the research center of the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health.

With the institute’s purchase of a cutting-edge PET/MRI scanner, one of approximately 30 in the country, Newberg and the Integrative Medicine team are opening new doorways into the different physiological processes of diseases.

The scanner allows doctors to see, simultaneously, two different perspectives of the brain, creating a synergy that Newberg says was not doable before the PET/MRI scanner. If and how the images match up can help decide a patient’s treatment plan.

“On a very basic level, we are studying the best ways to evaluate these patients with very complex problems, and what is the most sensitive, to help figure out what is going on,” he says. “That is part of what we are doing by using both types of scans together.”

The abundance of data gathered from studies using the PET/MRI scanner have led to therapies yielding “interesting changes” in the brain. The team has published a study showing that using the molecule N-acetyl cysteine on patients with Parkinson’s has yielded benefits. A second paper was recently accepted.

“The good news is that a lot of the interventions we do seem to have a viable mechanism that we can start to look at and explore,” Newberg says. “We are going to continue that research, as well as look at a whole variety of disorders, brain-wise and body-wise, and try to understand the mechanisms of those diseases better.”