International collaboration develops clinical tool to measure activity of brain at rest

A research team led by Western University, in collaboration with The University of Liège in Belgium and Central University Colombia, has developed a new strategy to study the human brain while it’s resting, which gives scientists and health care providers a baseline for measuring states of awareness.

Utilizing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology as a clinical tool, Andrea Soddu, an Assistant Professor at Western’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and also a Principal Investigator at the Brain and Mind Institute, and his collaborators have determined that this novel approach will accurately forecast if there are conditions present in an individual’s brain for consciousness to occur.

This information is vital when assessing a patient with a head injury as he or she may not be able to communicate verbally or otherwise but by determining if consciousness is a possibility, tailored treatments and therapies can be explored while active caregiving persists

Unlike the research of Western’s Adrian Owen, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging, which is based on patient participation, this technique measures spontaneous activity using the fMRI scanner.

“There is no participation in the fMRI scanner so measurements are not biased by the participants. This gives us a very clear picture of the brain at rest,” explains Soddu. “If the brain has suffered from serious trauma then you can more accurately detect differences in the brain patterns and continue exploratory measures in determining further actions and analysis.”

Classifying patients automatically based on fMRI resting state data is the first step towards single subject objective diagnostics, which is imperative as the global medical community investigates the customization of health care and the personalized medicine model.

“In the brain, we know certain regions are connected. Using the fMRI as a clinical tool, we can see if these same regions are doing the same things at the same time functionally,” explains Soddu.

The findings were published recently in Cortex in a paper titled, “Multiple fMRI system-level baseline connectivity is disrupted in patients with consciousness alteration.”

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