A Moment of Science

Building a Better MRI

Many brain disorders remain untreatable. Can new MRI technology lead doctors to the solution?

an mri image of the right side of a brain

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MRI scanning is great for giving doctors a big picture view of the brain to spot big things like tumors and aneurysms.

Have you ever had an MRI?

It’s pretty amazing how those machines allow you to look inside the body and get such detailed images.

However, in some ways MRI technology is pretty crude. Take the brain, for example. MRI scanning is great for giving doctors a big picture view of the brain to spot big things like tumors and aneurysms.

When it comes to small things, like taking a look at how brain cells communicate, MRI is pretty useless. See, when scientists use MRI to study how the brain works, all they can really do is monitor how and where blood flows when we think about something or do other activities.

Is there a better way?

Well, an MIT researcher named Alan Jasanoff has an interesting idea. He’s engineered tiny magnets that cluster together in the presence of calcium. This is important because when brain cells release chemicals to communicate with one another, they absorb lots of calcium. Jasanoff is working on a way to introduce his magnets into the brain, so when the brain cells fire and absorb calcium, the magnets will cluster in those areas, and show up as darkened spots on MRI scans.

This can give researchers a much more detailed picture of what’s going on in the brain at the cellular level. The more we know about brain cells in action, the better able we’ll be to treat brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimers.

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