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Magnetic camera reveals diseases of the brain

20 October 2010

Left: Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI) of the brain showing a change that is probably a malignant tumor. Right: MRI of the same change with a new technique

The anatomy, morphology, and function can be depicted in detail with the aid of a magnetic resonance camera. The images can reveal early stages of diseases like dementia, cancer, acute stroke, and epilepsy.

“The role of MRI technology is becoming more and more important as new treatment possibilities appear for more and more diseases in the brain. The earlier we detect pathological changes with the MRI camera, the better the possibility we have of applying the right treatment in time,” says Elna-Marie Larsson, professor of neuroradiology at Uppsala University and chief physician at Uppsala University Hospital.

She uses the MRI camera to study diseases of the brain clinically on patients and in research. MRIs show not only morphology but also blood flow and the movement of water molecules. If a specific area has a higher or lower signal intensity compared with its surroundings, this may be a sign of a pathological process. The technique is called magnetic resonance tomography, and, to name a couple of examples, the signal in blood-flow images is strong in malignant brain tumors, which need a constant supply of blood and nutrients, whereas it is weak in areas of the brain that have lost volume in dementia diseases, for instance, or certain psychiatric disorders.

An important method that is coming to the fore is so-called functional MR imaging, fMRi. Here MRI technology is used to take pictures of the brain’s functions, for example, in the areas of the cerebral cortex that are close to the tumor. In dementia research fMRi is used in so-called memory testing in the MR camera.

“What’s so stimulating about clinical, patient-related research is that new things are happening all the time, both clinically and in research, that allow us to develop this imaging technology. Ultimately patients benefit from cutting-edge imaging methods, since we can offer better diagnosis and treatment,” says Elna-Marie Larsson.

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Radiological research

The Division of Radiology at the Department of Oncology, Radiology, and Clinical Immunology pursues research in the field of diagnostics and intervention using radiological methods.