Dubbed High Definition Fibre Tracking, this ground-breaking new technology not only allows doctors more exact knowledge of what problems are, but also how best to tailor therapies and advice to individual needs.
It is well known that traumatic brain injuries can be complicated cases for neurosurgeons to treat, especially when nerve damage. is part of the problem, as nerve networks criss-cross their way throughout the whole area of the brain, making it difficult to trace or previously even get an image of what was going on.
A University of Pittsburgh team of psychiatrists, radiologists and neurosurgeons have now, however, developed a method for imaging the brain in high-definition – with such high and clear resolution that even the nerve fibres can be seen. Dubbed High Definition Fibre Tracking, this ground-breaking new technology not only allows doctors more exact knowledge of what problems are, but also how best to tailor therapies and advice to individual needs.
Psychologist Walter Schneider was part of the team responsible for the development of the technology, and likened the tracing of brain damage to attempting to follow, by helicopter, a truck on a highway and losing sight of it at every intersection, yet the new imaging is so exact that all the tracks can be detected, showing how any injury has affected brain function, and to what extent.
Images are obtained through the use of a magnetic resonance imager, with which device many scans are taken before the application of a new mathematical model, by which method actual neural tracks can be picked out. Where ordinary MRI scans are taken from 51 directions only, this new scanning genre does the job from over 200.
In some respects, this revolutionary new scanning technique could be likened it to inspecting bone injuries after using an X-ray machine. In the case of patient Daniel Stunkard – who had suffered a brain injury in a vehicle accident – the loss of 67% of motor pathways function controlling his arm, and 97%of those controlling his hand had been lost – something that previously would have been much more difficult to detect.
This remarkable new window to damage to the brain in such detail could prove useful in mental health diagnoses, allowing doctors to reassure themselves that physical problems are not involved – rendering treatment perhaps more straightforward – ant this technique could also make certain neuro-surgical procedures more certain, in being able to see see the neural tracks that will be damaged in surgery.
As yet there are too few images available to make sweeping statements, though eventually it is hoped hope that enough will exist to enable comparisons in patients. The study of professional football players, who suffer lots of orthopaedic injuries and concussions, would be of benefit to the future of the game and looking at the brains of autistic people, and others with developmental problems, could also help create a better understanding of such conditions.