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Psychiatry Newsletter - Imaging that Will Open the Brain

Hopkins BrainWise Fall 2010

Imaging that Will Open the Brain

Date: November 29, 2010

Dr. Chris Ross
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See Chris Ross<br/>Christopher Ross directs Psychiatry’s division of neurobiology.

Neuroscientist Christopher Ross casually offered his brain to science this summer, submitting to several MRI scans, each reflecting a nuance of the structural or functional imaging offered by the new high-powered, 7 tesla scanner installed nearby at the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Kirby Imaging Center. Ross’s images are part of pilot work to establish ways to assess healthy brain as a baseline for comparing with patients with psychiatric diseases.

The new scanner’s magnetic-

field strength leaves earlier 1.5 or 3.0 tesla (the standard unit) versions in the dust. “You can actually feel the force field if you walk by,” says Ross. “But what’s remarkable,” he adds, “is the high resolution that results. You can see every little fold of the cortex so an image looks almost like living brain.”

For Ross, who’s done seminal work in Huntington’s disease (HD), an immediate use is clear. With colleagues in Hopkins Psychiatry, Radiology and at Kennedy Krieger, he’ll more accurately describe  brain changes in the caudate nucleus, the cerebral cortex and other areas affected in presymptomatic HD patients. The 7T could pick up early structural shifts deeper in the brain, metabolic changes and even differences in specific biochemicals that signal a downhill path—all useful HD biomarkers to track how the disease progresses and, ideally, the benefits of potential therapy.  

“But the 7T will be even more useful, we suspect, for depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder where the brain changes can be more subtle. “The 7T,” he adds, “puts us at the forefront of imaging.”