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San Francisco Friday, 16 February, 2001, 10:14 GMT
Brain scan aid to dyslexics
Graphic BBC
By Corinne Podger in San Francisco

Brain scans could revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of the common reading disorder dyslexia.


With brain imaging, we're able to get a clearer picture of what the areas are in the brain that might be impaired in dyslexia

Dr Guinevere Eden
Researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington say the technology could help develop better techniques for screening very young children - even those who have yet to pick up their first book.

The team used the scans to show how people with dyslexia have a much lower level of activity in one part of the brain compared with people who do not suffer from the condition.

This led to the discovery that another part of the brain was "plastic" and could be taught to compensate for the other region's weakness through a programme of intense reading training.

Language tasks

Dyslexia affects up to one in six people. Individuals with the disorder have trouble associating written words and letters with the sounds they represent.

Although dyslexia can be treated with intensive reading therapy, individuals respond differently to the several types of therapy now on offer. But matching the right therapy to a particular individual has been difficult because scientists have had so little information about what exactly is going on in the brains of dyslexics as they perform language tasks.

Dr Guinevere Eden and Dr Thomas Zeffiro gave people with dyslexia a brain scan before and after an intensive language skills course. The second scan showed dramatic increases in brain activity in areas associated with language.

Dr Eden said the study demonstrated how the technology could help identify and treat people with dyslexia much earlier.

Targeted intervention

She told the BBC: "It helps us in that we might be able to identify those who are at risk and be able to provide them with earlier intervention. And with brain imaging, we're able to get a clearer picture of what the areas are in the brain that might be impaired in dyslexia.

"We could save them a lot of grief by targeting the intervention early and very intensively, so that they, at the very beginning, have a better chance of overcoming those reading problems."

Drs Eden and Zeffiro stressed that it would be impractical to offer scans to large numbers of children. Instead, they said the technology would help improve the assessment programmes already in use that are designed to identify potential dyslexics.

They envisioned only a limited number of children with very severe problems being offered scans.

The researchers discussed their work at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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Dr Guinevere Eden
Many approaches will give us the best understanding of dyslexia
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