Jan 092011
 

The new technique accelerates diffusion MRI as well as functional MRI. The colored tracks show the direction of nerve fiber bundles, providing a 3-D image of the axonal pathways in the white matter (cortex) of a resting human brain. A normal structural cross sectional image of the brain (fMRI) bisects the diffusion 3-D fibertrack image. The entire 3-D image was scanned in 8.5 minutes instead of 30 minutes. (Credit: David Feinberg)

An international team of physicists and neuroscientists has reported a breakthrough in magnetic resonance imaging that allows brain scans more than seven times faster than currently possible.

In a paper that appeared Dec. 20 in the journal PLoS ONE, a University of California, Berkeley, physicist and colleagues from the University of Minnesota and Oxford University in the United Kingdom describe two improvements that allow full three-dimensional brain scans in less than half a second, instead of the typical 2 to 3 seconds.

“When we made the first images, it was unbelievable how fast we were going,” said first author David Feinberg, a physicist and adjunct professor in UC Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and president of the company Advanced MRI Technologies in Sebastopol, Calif. “It was like stepping out of a prop plane into a jet plane. It was that magnitude of difference.”

For neuroscience, in particular, fast scans are critical for capturing the dynamic activity in the brain.

“When a functional MRI study of the brain is performed, about 30 to 60 images covering the entire 3-D brain are repeated hundreds of times like the frames of a movie but, with fMRI, a 3-D movie,” Feinberg said. “By multiplexing the image acquisition for higher speed, a higher frame rate is achieved for more information in a shorter period of time.”

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