Researchers of the Unit for Systems Biology of the University of Jaén, led by Francisco J. Esteban, are developing a software for clinical use to detect multiple sclerosis even before the typical brain damage of this neurodegenerative disease appear. In order to do so, this scientific multidisciplinary team is calculating the fractal dimension of the brain images registered on magnetic resonance imaging. They are starting to implement this technique also to other neurodegenerative diseases, and therefore it could be a tool for the early diagnose of this type of diseases. Centre for Applied Medical Research of the University of Navarra and Hospital Clínico of Barcelona are collaborating in this research.
Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative disease of the nervous system that cannot be cured and whose exact causes are unknown. When the first symptoms appear, one of the tests that is usually carried out is an MRI to find out if the brain suffers the typical damage of this disease. In the early stages of the disease it may be that no damage has been caused yet or that the damage caused is under the resolution limit of the MRI. In such cases the brain of an ill person is said to be 'apparently normal' as it shows the same features than that of a healthy person. However a group of Jaen scientists has applied an analysis by calculating the fractal dimension of an ill person's brain and they have proven that the result of that -shown with this parameter- is different from a healthy person's brain.
Unlike the Euclidean dimension (a point has a dimension of zero, a line has a dimension of one, a plane has a dimension of 2, and a volume has a dimension of 3), the fractal dimension is a parameter that allows to obtain dimensions ranging between 1 and 2 (2-D fractal dimension) and 2 and 3 (3-D fractal dimension). The fractal dimension is the dimension of irregular digitalized curves, and for some years now it has been applied to different biological structures, but the application to the brain was scarce. For the first time, this group of biologists, computing engineers, mathematicians, neurologists, neurosurgeons, psychologists and statisticians are carrying out this type of calculations on 3D magnetic resonance imaging of brains to try to solve clinical problems.
What the eye cannot see
This team is developing software that allows calculating the 3D fractal dimension of the brain. 'It is a tool for clinical use to try to see if persons suffering the early symptoms of multiple sclerosis, with an apparently normal brain, can suffer this disease. It could be a very useful tool for the early diagnosis of brain-related diseases' Esteban said.