Skip to content

    Brain & Nervous System Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    New Imaging Tech Promises to Help Diagnose Brain Disorders


    WebMD Health News

    Dec. 12, 2000 (Washington) -- A new type of magnetic resonance imaging technology may soon help doctors diagnose acute stroke, as well as assess certain neurological, cognitive, and behavioral disorders such as autism, attention deficit disorder, and schizophrenia.

    MRI is an imaging technique used to produce high quality images of the inside of the human body. The new technique is called Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or DT-MRI. It measures the random movement of hydrogen atoms within water (even "calm" water will have a lot of atomic movement within it) in a noninvasive fashion. These randomly moving atoms collide with each other and spread out in a process called diffusion.

    By also tracking the diffusion, or spread, of water molecules during an MRI, the technique allows for the three-dimensional mapping of soft tissues such as nerves, muscles, and the heart.

    "It's MRI plus," says Peter Basser, PhD, who developed the system in 1996. Now chief of tissue biophysics and biometrics at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Basser says the best thing about his technique is that it will allow for the mapping of nerve pathways in the brain.

    Using his technique, researchers will be able to depict the fibers that connect different regions of the brain, and then map the spread of the water molecules in order to determine how the brain is "wired," Basser explains. This map can then be used to look for common "wiring" problems related to conditions such as autism, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy, he tells WebMD.

    Basser's technique is not yet in commercial development, although a number of companies have expressed interest. But research into its practical application already has begun. Some of that research was described at a recent conference hosted by NICHD.

    At the meeting, researchers from across the globe described their efforts to diagnose conditions ranging from alcoholism to schizophrenia, as well as map tumors, the spinal cord, and heart. But in describing their successes, the researchers also depicted some of the remaining hurdles including one that many take some time to sort out.

    Today on WebMD

    nerve damage
    Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
    senior woman with lost expression
    Know the early warning signs.
     
    woman in art gallery
    Tips to stay smart, sharp, and focused.
    medical marijuana plant
    What is it used for?
     
    senior man
    Article
    boy hits soccer ball with head
    Slideshow
     
    red and white swirl
    Article
    marijuana plant
    ARTICLE
     
    brain illustration stroke
    Slideshow
    nerve damage
    Slideshow
     
    Alzheimers Overview
    Slideshow
    Graphic of number filled head and dna double helix
    Quiz