For years, doctors have relied on non-invasive imaging techniques to track brain activity without surgery. A breakthrough by Swiss researchers has brought brain mapping into much sharper focus.
Since functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) came into widespread use in the 1990s, doctors have been able to identify patterns of neural activity by measuring blood flow to different regions of the brain. Now, by combining fMRI with a new computational method, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Geneva (UNIGE) have managed to turn fuzzy brain maps into real-time, colour-coded outlines of up to 13 distinct neural networks.
These findings could mean much more than just nicer-looking brain scans: more precise knowledge of how normal neural networks interact could be a big advantage for research on brain disorders.
Dimitri Van De Ville, a professor at both EPFL and UNIGE and co-author of the study published in Nature Communications, said they found that an average of four neural networks are active at any one time in healthy test subjects at rest.
“Until now, we thought the regions took turns activating, and that they did so with little coordination,” Van De Ville told the EPFL Press Office.
Because brain disorders like Alzheimer’s disease often involve more than one neural network, clearer images could help doctors identify and diagnose illnesses earlier - even before symptoms appear. If patients are diagnosed earlier, then doctors can begin treating them sooner, increasing the chances of a good outcome.
swissinfo.ch and agencies