AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 3, 2018

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Overlooked Signal in MRI Scans Reflects Amount, Kind of Brain Cells

An MRI scan often generates an ocean of data, most of which is never used. When overlooked data is analyzed using a new technique developed at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, they surprisingly reveal how many and which brain cells are present – and show where cells have been lost through injury or disease.

The findings eventually may lead to new ways to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, autism and other brain conditions through a simple brain scan.

“There’s no easy way to detect the loss of neurons in living people, but such loss plays a role in many neurological diseases,” said Dmitriy Yablonskiy, PhD, a professor of radiology at the university’s Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, who directed this study together with Marcus Raichle, MD, a professor of radiology and the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Distinguished Professor of Medicine. “We’ve shown in the past that there’s a signal that goes down in parts of the brain in people with Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury, but we didn’t know what it meant. Now, we know it means neurons have died in those areas.”

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