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Technologies of Brain Mapping

Posted Oct 25 2010 8:00am

Introduction to Brain Mapping

If you are into neuro-feedback therapy or know how it helps solve health issues related to brain function, then you may be interested in how this technology works and where it is headed.

  • Human brain can be affected with various problems like ‘Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’ (ADHD), anxiety, epilepsy or disorders due to brain injury.
  • Such disorders require a specific diagnostic tool, and Brain mapping is one amongst the many diagnostic tools.
  • Brain mapping technologies are evolving at a rapid rate giving new dimensions to the brain scanning and research industry.

Scientists employ various brain mapping technologies to examine a brain’s structure and functional parts. Traditionally, doctors used to take pictures of diseased brain and compare them with ideal healthy brains to identify the problem. Neurons are also examined on a microscopic level to study brain activity.

Here are the currently evolving, and brand new technologies used in brain mapping:

Computer Axial Tomography (CAT)

  • This is a kind of X-ray for the brain. It takes images from numerous angles and displays structural abnormalities in the brain.
  • Typically, it is used during emergencies to quickly identify brain injuries. CT scanning employs a modern a computer program to aid its numerical integral calculation while measuring the extent of x-rays absorbed by the brain in a particular region.
  • Normally, the imaging information is revealed as brain cross-sections.
  • In CAT scan, the denser parts of the brain will appear as white regions on the scan.
  • CAT scans are also used to examine the swelling due to tissue damage.
  • Latest CAT scan machines can provide high-quality images of the brain in a matter of minutes.

Structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging

  • This technology uses the water present inside the brain to click high-quality images.
  • It employs a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer and produces pictures of particular molecular structures and atoms of solids. These images are ideally focused on tissues, human cells and organs.
  • The pictures are better than a CT scan.

Diffusion tensor-MRI

  • Also known as DTI, it creates image of neurons in the brain that connect various brain parts through water movements inside the brain.
  • It helps when a brain tissue (e.g. white matter neural axons) contains an inner fibrous structure similar to the crystal anisotropy.

Electroencephalography (EEG)

  • In this technique, electrically active regions of the brain are highlighted by placing sensors around the brain.
  • These detectors can be placed directly on the scalp or on a cap.
  • Overall, brain activity is examined using this technique.

Positron Emission Tomography

  • Pictures of radioactive markers inside the brain are collected using this technique.
  • A 3-D picture of the functional regions of the brain can be had from this technique.
  • This helps identify the non-working regions of the brain and thus proceed accordingly.

Pharmacological functional MRI

  • This technology is similar to brain MRI discussed above.
  • However, it is used when the drugs have been administered to the patient.
  • This helps identify the direction of the prescription as well as future disease potential.

Trans-cranial Magnetic Stimulation

  • This is a non-invasive technology that stimulates certain regions of the brain parts of the brain to trigger a particular behavior.
  • It causes depolarization of the brain neurons through electromagnetic induction.
  • Minimal discomfort is felt during this technique and the images help understand the brain’s functioning and interconnections.

Latest Developments

  • Research is always being carried out in the brain mapping realm to develop new and advanced scanning devices.
  • Latest methods are focused on creating devices that will help establish connections between numerous neutrons moving around in the brain.
  • This branch is known as Connectomics.
  • This method helps create a “wiring diagram” of human brain known as Connectome.
  • Another technique called Brainbow, categorizes each neuron present inside an animal brain with a different color.
  • Such images can help scientists identify how and where exactly neurons connect with each other.
  • However, this technology is so far limited to only small brains (e.g. mice). Time will see this technology being developed and used for human trials soon.

What is the Point in Doing Brain Mapping?

  • What’s the point behind brain mapping?
  • Why scientists perform this arduous task?
  • Well the reason is quite simple; to better understand how our brains function and deliver effective brain healthcare.
  • Till date, we have not been able to see how neurons interact in our brain.
  • Doctors use advanced brain mapping technologies to perform complex brain surgeries.

Practical Applications

  • Besides these applications, brain mapping technologies are used in diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can be diagnosed early using brain mapping.
  • Doctors employ technologies like PET, to identify and diagnose brain related problems.
  • They introduce certain dyes in the brain and use MRI to study shrinkages or tissue loss.
  • Also, developmental disorders, such as Autism, can also be studied using comprehensive brain mapping.

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