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New Imaging Tech Promises to Help Diagnose Brain Disorders

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At present, there is no real way to confirm that the anatomical data gathered by the researchers truly is valid, explains Carlo Pierpaloi, MD, PhD, a co-developer of the technique and the first researcher to investigate its practical applications. Without that anatomical confirmation, it will be difficult to put the technology into practice, the NICHD researcher adds.

At the heart of the problem is whether dead human tissue is comparable to live human tissue. Because the researchers are unable to dissect a live human brain, the present comparisons are between what is seen in dead dissected specimens and what is seen in living specimens imaged by the new technology.

Animal studies may help resolve part of this problem, Pierpaloi observes. But because certain human-like behavioral conditions are difficult, if not impossible at times, to identify in animals, solving this quandary is of significant importance, Pierpaloi tells WebMD.

There are also some technical problems to be worked out for different applications such as how to limit background distortions, Pierpalosi and the other researchers say. But nonetheless, "It is clearly an important technology for the future," Pierpalosi concludes.

Still, the technique may have some immediate applications. For instance, drug makers could use it as "in-house" technology to test the effectiveness of drugs under investigation, Basser tells WebMD.

Basser says he expects that the technique will be phased in over time. But besides specialized hardware, it also requires an understanding of diffusion principles. "It's a challenging thing to do right now," Basser says.

As for the human brain scans, the process may also be difficult for some to undergo. For the three-dimensional image to be generated, the process requires about 15 to 30 minutes of staying absolutely still -- on top of the hour or so it already takes to complete a traditional MRI.

Additional information about DT-MRI and some sample images can be seen at www.nichd.nih.gov.

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