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MIT model helps researchers 'see' brain development

Large mammals--humans, monkeys, and even cats--have brains with a somewhat mysterious feature: The outermost layer has a folded surface. Understanding the functional significance of these folds is one of the big open questions in neuroscience.

Now a team led by MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School researchers has developed a tool that could aid such studies by helping researchers “see?how those folds develop and decay in the cerebral cortex.

By applying computer graphics techniques to brain images collected using magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, they have created a set of tools for tracking and measuring these folds over time. Their resulting model of cortical development may serve as a biomarker, or biological indicator, for early diagnosis of neurological disorders such as autism.

The researchers describe their model and analysis in the April issue of IEEE Transactions on Medical Imaging.

Peng Yu, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST), is first author on the paper. The work was led by co-author Bruce Fischl, associate professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, research affiliate with the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and HST, and director of the computational core at the HST Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

The team started with a collection of MR images from 11 developing brains, provided by Ellen Grant, chief of pediatric radiology at MGH and the Martinos Center. Of the subjects scanned, eight were newborn, mostly premature babies ranging from about 30 to 40 weeks of gestational age, and three were from children aged two, three and seven years. Grant scanned these infants and children to assess possible brain injury and found no neural defects. Later, she also consulted with Fischl's team to ensure that their analyses made sense clinically.

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Source:Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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