Technique improves quantitative MR measures of brain

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a method to use MRI to quantify brain tissue volume, a technique that may impact the way neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), are diagnosed and treated.

"We're moving from qualitative – saying something is off – to measuring how off it is," Aviv Mezer, PhD, of Stanford’s department of psychology, said in a press release. A description of the method was published online Nov. 3 in Nature Medicine.

The team was able to measure the volume of macromolecules within each cubic millimeter of the brain in order to determine the macromolecular tissue volume (MTV). Since MS erodes the myelin sheath in the brain, and as this happens the MTV of the brain’s white matter changes, Mezer and colleagues predicted the technique could be used to evaluate MS patients.

Until now, quantitative MRI measurements either required uncomfortably long procedures or lacked consistency. The interdisciplinary team of researchers in the current study, however, calibrated their scan method with radiological phantoms that simulated brain tissue. This enabled them to produce MTV values in agreement with measurements that previously only came from exams of post-mortem specimens.

When Mezer and colleagues applied the method to test subjects, they found MS patients’ white matter tissue volumes were significantly lower than those of healthy volunteers.

Next, the researchers will follow up with patients to evaluate the effect of MS drug therapies. They also plan to use the quantitative method to monitor brain development in children.