New medical imaging research helps diagnosis fetal brain abnormalities, epilepsy and autism

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The world's leading neuroscience and radiology experts today shared new research and technological developments in medical imaging that facilitate diagnosis and breakthrough treatments of fetal brain abnormalities, epilepsy and cognitive disorders such as autism and Alzheimer's. These important imaging advancements hold significant promise to enhance disease diagnosis to ultimately improve the life-saving and life-changing benefits of today's medical treatments.

Held at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center June 5–11 in Seattle, the ASNR Annual Meeting has become the global congregation point for the top minds in diagnostic and interventional neuroradiology. Attendance at this year's meeting is up 20 percent, drawing twice as many overseas participants as last year.

Some of the most dramatic technology and research insights shared were in the areas of fetal intervention, epilepsy, autism and Alzheimer's.

Fetal Imaging

"Today there are amazing surgical procedures that can be done on fetuses in utero to treat brain abnormalities, but these cannot be performed without first conducting fetal imaging tests to carefully diagnose the malady," explains ASNR President Dr. Charles Strother. "Using the latest imaging technology doctors can now get better quantity and quality of information from which to make their diagnosis, decide on the best treatment, and even plot out the step-by-step details of delicate surgery."

Technologies and research in the areas of fetal imaging focused on modalities such as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The tests are safe for pregnant women, their unborn babies and newborns with MR imaging that uses no ionizing radiation. The resulting data enable diagnosis and treatment of many disorders that were previously undetectable or worsened by delayed intervention. Physicians can now better detect and trace abnormal fetal brain development in-utero and improve the effectiveness of subsequent treatment therapies.


Epilepsy can be treated surgically, and this is especially important to the more than 200,000 Americans with epilepsy who do not respond to pharmacological treatment. Advanced imaging technologies such as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) were among the technologies presented at the meeting, which demonstrated improvements in detecting the origin of the seizure within the brain.

"Detecting the origin of the seizure with greater specificity enables us to better treat patients, to select those patients who may be cured by surgery and those who are better treated medically," stated Dr. Victor Haughton, ASNR program chair and president elect. "Effective imaging can maximize the medical outcome and – in the case of epilepsy – even an incremental benefit can go a long way towards improved quality of life for these patients."


Several health and consumer organizations are highly concerned about today's dramatic increase in the incidence of autism. This mysterious disease is well known to be the result of abnormal brain function, yet the key improved treatment and therapy lies largely in the ability to determine exactly how each particular child's brain function is abnormal.

New imaging research – most notably using magnetoencephalography (MEG) – is shedding light on this growing epidemic by monitoring neuronal activity to better identify just "how" one's brain function is abnormal. MEG is a non-invasive, high-resolution technique that can detect fields so minute that it can physically image a single thought in real-time. In this manner, MEG has been extremely insightful in gaining a greater understanding of how autistic children process sounds (only in the left hemisphere as opposed to both) and other aspects of language impairments, traditionally associated with autism. Together with MR imaging and functional MRI, it provides a picture of how brain functions are organized in individuals with autism.


While there is no known cure for Alzheimer's it has been established that if it is treated before severe cognitive deficits occur, patients can maintain healthier cognitive function. Continued refinement of proven imaging techniques, such as MRI, promise to help diagnose Alzheimer's earlier and earlier.

"New research using MRI shows that the rate of brain atrophy during the period of mild cognitive impairment can predict future decline into Alzheimer's disease within four years prior to clinical diagnosis," Dr. Haughton said. "This information can help maximize the potential to preserve this cognitive ability by enabling earlier intervention."


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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