Real-time magnetic resonance imaging (rtMRI) is a fairly new method of rendering images quickly enough to capture the movement of organs or joints. Researchers at the University of Southern California have used the technique to examine how beatboxers produce the sounds of their vocals. And, in a more artistic deployment of the method, British physicians have collaborated with a musician named Sivu to create the above rtMRI music video. The final production is both entertaining and educational.
In a paper (subscription required) published this week in Nature, Cornell researchers demonstrated a new way of taking high-resolution, three-dimensional images of the brain’s inner workings through a three-fold improvement in the depth limits of multiphoton microscopy, a fluorescence-based imaging technique.
The striking image above illustrates the technique and depicts a horizontal frame from three-dimensional reconstructed three-photon microscopy images in a mouse brain. Neurons are shown in red, blood vessels are labeled in blue and the dark holes are non-fluorescent neurons. A Cornell release offers more details about the work and the its significance from a basic research and clinical perspective:
Using a mouse model, the researchers have proved the principle of three-photon microscopy operating at a wavelength of 1,700 nanometers. This, in combination with the new laser specifically created for three-photon excitation, allows the researchers to perform high-resolution imaging of neurons at unprecedented depths within a mouse brain.
Pushing these depth limits is important for basic science and eventually could prove useful clinically, [senior author Chris Xu, PhD,] said. Depression and diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are associated with changes deep inside the brain, and finding the cures could be helped by subcortical neural imaging — that is, below the gray matter of the brain and into the white matter and beyond, if the brain is visualized as stacked layers.
A new method of using brain scans to determine whether a patient has chronic lower back pain proved successful 76 percent of the time in a new study from Stanford researchers. The work appears online today in the journal Cerebral Cortex (subscription required), and the hope is this new tool could someday provide an objective measurement for chronic pain, something akin to a “painometer.”
The new method uses advanced computer algorithms to analyze magnetic resonance imaging scans of the brain to provide an objective measurement of chronic pain. While not yet ready for primetime, its success so far makes it appear promising, according to Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Pain Medicine and senior author of the study. As he told me for the press release I wrote:
People have been looking for an objective pain detector — a ‘pain scanner’ — for a long time. We’re still a long way from that, but this method may someday augment self-reporting as the primary way of determining whether a patient is in chronic pain.
The need for additional methods for measuring chronic pain beyond the gold standard of self-reporting has long been acknowledged, particularly for the very young and very old who may have difficulty communicating. In a past story I wrote about a similar study by Mackey and colleagues, Hank Greely, JD, a Stanford law professor, said such a tool has the potential to be a “godsend” to the legal system.
Updated 12-6-12: In the video above, Shawn Chavez, PhD, first author of the study, describes the work and its significance.
12-4-12: Couples who turn to in vitro fertilization, or IVF, are desperate to have a family. But, despite many advances, the odds of a successful pregnancy from each round of costly, emotionally demanding embryo transfer are only about 30 percent. The problem stems from the fact that many human embryos are faulty from the earliest stages and will never develop successfully.
Stanford researchers Renee Reijo Pera, PhD, and Barry Behr, PhD, have been working to find out why – and to develop ways to increase the odds of a successful pregnancy through IVF. They report findings from some of their work in today’s Nature Communications, which I describe in a release:
The research suggests that fragmentation — a common but not well-understood occurrence in the early stages of human development in which some of the cells in an embryo appear to break down into smaller particles — is often associated with a lethal loss or gain of genetic material in an embryo’s cells. Coupling a dynamic analysis of fragmentation with an analysis of the timing of the major steps of embryonic development can significantly increase the chances of selecting an embryo with the correct number of chromosomes, the researchers found.
“It is amazing to me that 70 to 80 percent of all human embryos have the wrong number of chromosomes,” said [Reijo Pera], professor of obstetrics and gynecology. “But less than 1 percent of all mouse embryos are similarly affected. We’re trying to figure out what causes all these abnormalities.”
Reijo Pera and Behr started a company called Auxogyn to investigate ways to bring these findings into the clinic. The company, which is now privately held, is currently conducting clinical trials of an earlier version of the technique. Reijo Pera and Behr hold stock in the company.
In the study, researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine surveyed patients undergoing outpatient CT. During a four-month period, more than 300 participants met with a radiologist and then answered questions about radiologists’ profession and involvement in patient care. As described in a RSNA release:
Slightly more than 64 percent of respondents reported that they had little or no idea what radiologists do. Only 35.8 percent reported having much understanding, despite the fact that almost 83 percent replied that is was important or very important to know who interprets their imaging exams. Overall experience was reported as very positive by 70 percent of those who met a radiologist versus 53 percent of those who did not meet a radiologist.
“We need to better understand what patients want to know about radiologists in order to improve service and patient care,” [radiology resident Peter D. Miller, MD] said. “In my experience, people who’ve had the opportunity to interact with radiologists appreciated the chance to talk with them and get their thoughts on the imaging results.”
Researchers’ recommendations for tools to increase awareness about the profession include print and electronic materials, social media and increased interaction between radiologists and patients.
My colleague Sara Wykes, a smoker for 30 years, recently took the first step toward finding out what damage those decades of smoking may have done to her lungs. In the conclusion to this three-part series, Sara finds out results of her CT lung-cancer screening.
Last week I introduced you to my colleague Sara Wykes. Sara, a smoker for 30 years, has taken the first step toward finding out what damage all those of years of smoking may have done to her lungs. In this second part of a three-part series, Sara takes us through the CT lung-cancer screening process.
Could our neurological soundtrack reveal insights into our mental state? To answer that question scientists in China developed a method for converting two kinds of brain wave recordings into music.
In a paper published this week in PLOS ONE, researchers used simultaneous EEG and fMRI recordings to represent the activity of the brain in musical notes. EEG data influenced the pitch and duration of a note and fMRI scans controlled its intensity. Wired reports:
Combining EEG and fMRI allowed pitch and intensity to operate independently, a baseline distinction separating noise from music. To demonstrate, Lu and Yao recorded the brains of a 14-year-old girl and 31-year-old woman at rest.
For now, the mind music is more rehearsal than meaningful performance. Both EEG and fMRI provide fairly general measurements. But it’s possible to envision refinements of the approach in which mental states have distinctive sounds, and listening to them aids in diagnosis or treatment.
“Music therapy would be a good application of brain music,” said Lu. “I think this will be a wonderful application if we do more research.”
In the past, researchers have also created music from DNA and proteins.
There’s an interesting piece today in Nature News about researchers using fMRI to record the brain activity of rappers as they improvise lyrics in an effort to analyze the brain during periods of intense creativity.
In the study (subscription required), neuroscientists instructed a dozen subjects to recite memorized lyrics or freestyle rap while inside a fMRI machine. Researchers then compared the scans to identify which areas of the brain are used during improvisation. Daniel Cressey writes:
The results parallel previous imaging studies in which Braun and Charles Limb, a doctor and musician at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, looked at fMRI scans from jazz musicians2. Both sets of artists showed lower activity in part of their frontal lobes called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during improvisation, and increased activity in another area, called the medial prefrontal cortex. The areas that were found to be ‘deactivated’ are associated with regulating other brain functions.
“We think what we see is a relaxation of ‘executive functions’ to allow more natural de-focused attention and uncensored processes to occur that might be the hallmark of creativity,” says Braun.
The findings also suggest an explanation for why new music might seem to the artist to be created of its own accord. With less involvement by the lateral prefrontal regions of the brain, the performance could seem to its creator to have “occurred outside of conscious awareness”, the authors write.
By the time I started working with Sara Wykes, a brilliant writer at Stanford Hospital (and a Scope contributor), she had already been cigarette-free for 15 years. Sara is that colleague who insists on whole-wheat bagels and egg-white omelettes while the rest of us indulge in egg bagels covered in layers of cream cheese or syrup-laden pancakes. Sara is also the one who reminds us how important it is to get our flu shots and to keep up with our daily exercise routine. I wouldn’t say that she’s a health freak, but she certainly takes good care of herself and nudges others around her to do the same.
So when I found out that not only Sara had been a smoker, but had smoked about a pack a day for 30 years, I was surprised. Clearly, Sara is a changed woman and has made her health a priority.
When our team began preparing for November’s National Lung Cancer Awareness campaign, Sara mentioned that she now qualified, based on newly approved guidelines, for CT lung-cancer screening. The screening, which is quick and painless, could potentially save Sara’s life: In 2011, the New England Journal of Medicine published results from the National Lung Cancer Screening Trial that showed a 20 percent mortality reduction in a high-risk population who had been screened using low-dose CT as compared to a control group screened using chest radiography.
Sara was very generous and brave by agreeing to have her screening journey filmed and shared; above is the first of a three-part series documenting her experience.