New imaging technique will save lives and money

An international research collaboration, led by Western University, has developed a new imaging technique that will save hospitals money and more importantly, give some patients a second chance at life.

Utilizing functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology, the researchers, including Andrea Soddu from Western’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, have mimicked a diagnostic procedure to measure the resting state of the human brain that was previously administered using well-established, yet mildly invasive, 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET).

This technique makes it possible for doctors and scientists to assess changes in metabolic activity in clinical cases with patients suffering severe brain injuries and disorders of consciousness.

“We assessed the possibility of creating functional MRI activity maps, which could estimate the relative levels of activity in FDG-PET cerebral metabolic maps,” says Soddu, also a principal investigator at Western’s internationally renowned Brain and Mind Institute. “If no metabolic absolute measures can be extracted, our approach may still be of clinical use in centers without access to FDG-PET.”

Specifically, many hospitals in developing countries have access to functional MRI technology or FDG-PET but not both. By developing new fMRI techniques, hospitals that already have the expensive scanning equipment or wish to purchase a unit effectively get ‘more bang for their buck.’

This new development also may save lives as hospitals and laboratories that previously only housed fMRI units can now, theoretically, use existing technology for vegetative state/unresponsive wakefulness syndrome patients that may have otherwise gone unchecked.

In the study, which was recently published by Brain and Behavior, FDG-PET, fMRI neuronal maps, and a combined analysis showed decreases in frontoparietal and medial regions of the brain in vegetative patients in relation to control subjects. Subsequent analysis in locked-in syndrome patients, which we know to be conscious, also produced consistent neuronal maps with healthy controls.

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