Washington, June 17 : In a ground-breaking move, researchers at the Howard Florey Institute in Melbourne are developing a new technology to create individualised brain maps that will change the way disease is diagnosed, and will also enhance the accuracy of brain surgery.
Right now, researchers and neurosurgeons use coarse maps of the brain's structure that are based on a small number of individuals' brains after death. But these maps fail to show differences that can occur between people's brains.
This new brain mapping technology will be created by developing acquisition and analysis processes and software that will offer microscopic level investigation of individual brains.
In this project, Florey researchers are contributing neuroscience, engineering and mathematical expertise, while collaborators from the Neuroscience Research Institute in South Korea are providing the equipment.
The researchers are hoping that this technology will become widely available in the next two to three years.
Led by A/Prof Gary Egan, the Neuroimaging group at the Howard Florey Institute said that his group was using one of the most powerful Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners in the world - an ultra-high field 7 Tesla - to help develop the new brain mapping technology.
"Microscopic images inside the living brain will transform diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's disease. This technology will allow us to look at cortical grey matter and underlying white matter at a level previously only seen before in post-mortem brains," said A/Prof Egan.
He added: "Current MRI techniques cannot show specific organisation and functional patterns in the living brain. For example, developmental neuronal migration defects are known to cause epilepsy, but they cannot be seen with existing MRI technology. Ultra-high resolution imaging will allow scientists and doctors to clearly see defects in the brain and develop therapeutic strategies to address these problems," he said.
However, the most powerful scanners in Australia are 3 Tesla, which are accessed by the Florey scientists for other research projects. And A/Prof Egan is hoping that a 7 Tesla scanner would very soon be located in Australia as neuroimaging can assist research into all brain and mind disorders.
"Having an ultra-high field 7 Tesla in Australia would allow us to accelerate our research, which would benefit the three million Australians who experience a major episode of brain disorder every year," he added.
This research will be presented at the 14th Annual Meeting of the Organisation for Human Brain Mapping, which opened yesterday in Melbourne.