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New Brain Imaging Technology Maps Cell Activity In Real-Time

Center for Advanced Brain Magnetic Source Imaging Established at UPMC to Study Brain Function

PITTSBURGH, March 29, 2006 — Real-time brain mapping and monitoring is considered by many as one of the most exciting developments in neuroscience today. At the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), a scanning device which measures the brain’s magnetic field in real-time is allowing clinicians to more accurately pinpoint those areas of the brain causing epileptic seizures. The scanner also can aide in the diagnosis and study of disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, dementia and schizophrenia.

UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have formed the Center for Advanced Brain Magnetic Source Imaging (CABMSI) to use this new technology, called magnetoencephalography or MEG, for basic and applied research applications.

“This device is a powerful tool for studying the function of the brain. We now can map nerve cell activity non-invasively in the brain in real-time. With MEG, the brain is seen “in action” rather than viewed as a still image,” said L. Dade Lunsford, M.D., Lars Leksell Professor of neurological surgery and radiation oncology, and chairman of the department of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“Initially we are using MEG to determine the location of seizures in patients with epilepsy and to determine the functional centers in the brain that are responsible for language, vision, motor and sensory information that are critical in the pre-surgical planning for epilepsy surgery,” added Dr. Lunsford, who also is director of the Center for Image-Guided Neurosurgery at UPMC.

“The system simultaneously produces 306 separate recordings of magnetic activity and determines where it originates and which parts of the brain undertake various tasks. A MEG scan also determines how the brain functions both normally and in cases of illness,” said Robert Sclabassi, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurological surgery, neuroscience, psychiatry, and electrical, mechanical and biomedical engineering, and director of the Center for Clinical Neurophysiology.

“MEG allows researchers to study the brain in the fourth dimension. It not only provides revolutionary insights into the immense complexity of brain functions and mutual interactions between brain centers, but it also provides information about the mutual relationship between the vital centers and abnormalities,” according to Anto Bagic, M.D., M.Sc., assistant professor of neurology and neurological surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and the director of CABMSI.

“These graphic representations can be sent directly into a navigational system used by neurosurgeons in the operating room and help guide them to the area of the brain that should be taken out while at the same time marking the vital centers that have to be saved. This is not only a great diagnostic and research tool, but it also has a great potential for improving surgical outcomes,” he said.

A patient MEG examination is completely painless and non-invasive, usually taking about an hour and a half, with an epilepsy exam taking about two to three hours. Once the examination is completed, the patient can leave with no restrictions.

Because MEG can provide images of brain activity in real-time, it is ideal for studying the rapid sequence of events responsible for cognition, movement and emotion. Researchers from the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, which includes both University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University faculty, plan to conduct several studies making use of MEG.

Ahmad Hariri, Ph.D., and Mary Phillips, M.D., both of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine department of psychiatry, are among the Pitt faculty who will use the technology in their research. They are hopeful that studies using MEG will reveal, in real-time, the communication networks between brain regions that may be abnormal in psychiatric illnesses like depression and bipolar disease.

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