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Archive for 16/01/2011

Faster scan

For humans (as opposed to animals) there are at present very few ways to look at the brain. Researchers can look at the electrical fields on the outside of the skull (EEG). This give clear ‘whens’ for events but poor ‘wheres’. Looking at blood flow in the brain (fMRI) gives better ‘wheres’ but poorer ‘whens’. Anatomy in autopsy can be compared to behaviour during life in individuals with trauma, surgery or congenital damage to part of the brain, but there is little control as each case is individual. Occasionally electrodes are placed in the brain in preparation for brain surgery and patients permit investigation of the neurons in the region of the electrodes. The effects of deep brain stimulation is another source of data. These last two paths are also somewhat one-off with limited duplication or control. Various chemicals can affect the brain and behaviour but here the ‘wheres’ and ‘whens’ are very poor. All and all it is a meager experimental toolkit.

So it is great news that fMRI setups can have a pair of modifications that together increase the speed by over seven times. Shorter duration scans will give much better ‘when’ definition. The Connectome Project will benefit as well as the usual ‘coloured patches in the brain’ type research.

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