Study: fMRI, PET combo could be a potent weapon in brain disorder treatment

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A study by clinical researchers based at the University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS) are evaluating the combination of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) scanning in radiology. This is the first time such a study has taken place. The focus is to create a way to compare different measurements of the brain's function concurrently. The hope is for improved diagnosis and treatment in patients with Alzheimer's or other disorders of the brain. Full results of the study will be available next month.

"By using these two established methods, we now have an integrated way to look at the brain's functions," explained Andrew Newberg, MD, a radiologist in nuclear medicine at UPHS and lead author on this clinical study. "We can now get a more comprehensive view of what's happening in the brain at a particular time, than we've ever been able to do before. We can look at more diseases and more activation states."

For the study, the functional imaging of fMRI and PET scanning are combined.

"Normally, these two measures are coupled, or paired together. The more metabolism you have, the more blood flow," said Newberg. "But there are times the two don't match up with each other like with stroke, seizure disorders, or neurodegenerative disorders. That's what led us to this new technique so that we can explore many different aspects of the brain's function."

The process involves injecting a patient with radioactive material used for a PET scan as the patient is inside an fMRI scanner. As this occurs, the material is being taken up in the brain, radiologists are acquiring the fMRI image. Radiologists then take the patient to the PET scanner to take studies.

"We have both machines available to us and have now put them together in a way that works," said Newberg. "We can take the results of the simultaneous fMRI and PET scans and come up with two separate results and compare them for a new look at the brain. Using this technique, you capture the exact same moment in the brain with both scans. It will help to show us what the relationship is between metabolism and blood flow. Do those two really match up in large majority of conditions?"

According to Newberg, one important aim for the study is to get a better grasp on the effect of certain medications on the brain and body.

The study was conducted through the PET Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and through the Center for Functional Neuroimaging (CFN).

The full results of this study can be found at: www.sciencedirect.com.