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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
Turbocharged net to spot brain disease
The images are hi-tech
Web technology could help doctors identify subtle brain abnormalities that underlie major diseases including many psychiatric disorders and dementia.

In many cases it is difficult to precisely identify the nature of brain abnormalities from brain scans.

Brain image
Images can be provided from all angles
However, scientists from London's King's College and Imperial College and Oxford University have tackled the problem by developing a technique called the Dynamic Brain Atlas.

It takes advantage of a computer network technology called the Grid.

This enables super-computers connected to the internet to harness their processing power to work on some of the most intractable scientific problems.

In this case it allows a doctor to use a portable computer to compare a patient's brain scan with a composite image of what that brain is expected to look like.

This image is dynamically generated from hundreds of images stored around the world.

It shows the normal range of size and shape of brain structures for a person of the same age, gender, and past medical history.

Secure links

Researcher Dr Derek Hill said: "Much like an internet search, a doctor would enter in the desired properties of the customized atlas and click 'go'.

Brain image
Another view
"Using Grid technology the patient image is securely uploaded to ensure patient confidentiality, and simultaneously, images of many reference subjects that have the appropriate properties are securely accessed.

"Then computing power around the world is used to match each reference image to the patient to make a customized brain atlas.

"After a few seconds the doctor can see the patient images alongside the brain atlas, or can see the patient images with features from the atlas overlaid enabling them to pinpoint the regions of the brain that are abnormal."

The Grid is like a turbocharged internet. The internet yields pre-prepared data from remote sites; the Grid adds the power to process this data.

It provides an infrastructure that allows sharing of dynamic collections of computational systems, large data storage and other remote facilities that an individual may use.

Professor Jo Hajnal, from the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, Imperial College, said: "This development could have huge implications for patients for whom conventional diagnosis fails.

"Through this technology, doctors will be able to compare brain scans, and spot problems more easily.

"This demonstration uses emerging technology and gives a clear vision for the future, although routine use of these tools in district general hospitals is some years away."

See also:

09 Dec 01 | Health
Scans may 'cause brain changes'
06 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
3D brain mappers scan thousands
05 Feb 01 | Health
Brain scans spot 'happy thoughts'
25 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
Computing power brought online
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