A new application of an existing medical imaging technology could help predict long-term damage in patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to a new University of California San Francisco study.
Researchers analyzed brain scans using applied rapid automated resting state magnetoencephalography (MEG) imaging, which maps brain activity by recording magnetic fields produced by natural electrical currents in the brain.
They discovered “abnormally decreased functional connectivity” – or possible long-term brain damage – could persist years after a person suffers even a mild form of TBI, according to a university press release.
“We were hoping that areas of abnormal brain activity would match up with some of the functional measures such as patients’ symptoms after injury, and we saw such correlation,” senior author Dr. Pratik Mukherjee, associate professor in residence at the UCSF School of Medicine, said in a statement.
UCSF scientists analyzed brain-connectivity data on 14 male and seven female patients, whose median age was 29. Brain connectivity refers to a pattern of causal interactions between specific parts within a nervous system. Eleven patients had mild, one had moderate, and three had severe forms of traumatic brain injury. Six patients suffered no brain injury.
“Once we have connectivity information, we can create a template of what it looks like in a normal subject,” Mukherjee said. “When we have subjects that have had head injuries, we can compare their connectivity pattern to that of the normal subjects with an automated computer algorithm And that will automatically detect areas of abnormally low and abnormally high connectivity compared to the normal database.”
MEG imaging provides richer information than magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses magnetic field and radio wave energy to give a static image of the brain or other internal structures of the body.
“If you scan someone a couple months after the trauma with an MRI, and you scan them again a couple of years after the trauma, it’s going to look the same,” Mukherjee said. “With MEG, we can characterize simple systems in much more in fine grain detail. It produces the most detailed activity mapping of the brain.”
MEG has not been widely used for TBI patients until recently.
“It takes a minute or two to complete an MEG scan and it automatically detects the areas of abnormality using a computer algorithm,” Mukherjee said. “And it seems to be fairly sensitive because it’s showing us areas of abnormality even in people where MRIs missed some abnormalities.”
Every year about 1.7 million people in the United States suffer from traumatic brain injury, which costs the U.S. health care system an estimated $60 billion according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is a preliminary study testing a new technique with a small sample, which makes it difficult to have enough statistical power to make such correlations,” Mukherjee said. “But I think this is an important step in our quest to help people suffering from traumatic brain injuries.”