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New MRI-based tool could diagnose unseen brain damage

Washington, Sat, 03 Mar 2012 ANI

Washington, Mar 3 (ANI): Presently, there is no efficient way of diagnosing damage caused by a traumatic brain injury.


Thus the scientists are now testing a tool that lights up the breaks these injuries leave deep in the brain's wiring, much like X-rays show broken bones, ABC News reported.


Research is just starting in civilian and military patients to ascertain if this new kind of MRI-based test really could locate their injuries and one-day guide rehabilitation.


"We now have, for the first time, the ability to make visible these previously invisible wounds," said Walter Schneider of the University of Pittsburgh, who is leading development of the experimental scan.


"If you cannot see or quantify the damage, it is hard to treat it."


Not being able to see underlying damage leads to frustration for patients and doctors alike, said Dr. Walter Koroshetz, deputy director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.


Some people suffer from memory loss, mood changes or other problems after what was deemed a mild concussion, only to have CT scans indicate that nothing is wrong.


Repeated concussions increase the risk of developing permanent neurologic problems later in life, a concern highlighted when some retired football players sued the National Football League.


But Koroshetz insisted that there is no way to find out how much damage someone is accumulating, if the next blow "is really going to cause big trouble."


And with more grave head injuries, standard scans cannot see beyond bleeding or swelling to tell if the brain's connections are broken in a way it can't repair on its own.


"You can have a patient with severe swelling who goes on to have a normal recovery, and patients with severe swelling who go on to die," said Dr. David Okonkwo, a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center neurosurgeon who is part of the research.


Current testing "doesn't tell you what the consequence of that head injury is going to be."


Hence the increasing research into new options for diagnosing TBI.


In a report, Schneider's team described one potential candidate, called high-definition fiber tracking.


Brain cells communicate with each other through a system of axons, or nerve fibers that function like a telephone network.


They consitute what's called the white matter of the brain, and run along fibre tracts, cable-like highways consisting millions of connections.


The new scan processes high-powered MRIs through a special computer program to map major fibre tracts, painting them in vivid greens, yellows and purples that designate their different functions.


Researchers look for breaks in the fibres that could slow, even stop, those nerve connections from doing their assigned task.


The study has been published in the Journal of Neurosurgery. (ANI)


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