Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Image post 8: mapping live brains

This image from UAB Research illustrates the improving brain maps that promise to reveal the mechanisms behind complex, neurological diseases.

A MRI technology called diffusion tractography captured this image of a living rat brain. Tractography is a 3-D modeling technique that visually represents nerve pathways in the brain using data collected by diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).

DTI visualizes nerve pathways known collectively as white matter that connect the various parts of the brain via long bundles of nerve cells. It shows whether or not bundles of white matter fibers run in the same direction, but not in which direction. Tractography does that.

Since developed by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, it has given the field a more detailed look at brain structures, especially living brains. Taken together, these new MRI technologies promise to improve understanding of neurological disorders like schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease and the consequences of head trauma. They also may one day help neurosurgeons better avoid cutting nerves during surgeries.

In particular, tractography reveals connections that can be measured in living human subjects and measurements that can be made simultaneously across the entire brain. The Human Connectome Project is capitalizing on these strengths to build more accurate brain maps. The image was created in the lab of Hyunki Kim, Ph.D., associate professor in the departments of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering and faculty in the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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