‘Super-resolution’ brain scans take imaging to next level, could help doctors detect disease sooner

BOSTON — New high-tech brain scans capable of detecting the earliest signs of the onset of diseases have been developed. The “super-resolution” technique allows for more detailed brain imaging, enabling doctors to diagnose and treat patients more quickly.

Researchers believe that the new technique has the potential to detect neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.  They say that super-resolution combines position emission tomography (PET) with an external motion-tracking device to create highly detailed images of the brain.

In brain PET imaging, the quality of the images is often limited by unwanted movements of the patient during scanning. But, in the new study, researchers used super-resolution to harness the unwanted head movements of subjects to actually enhance the resolution in brain PET.

Experiments were performed on a PET scanner in conjunction with an external motion-tracking device that continuously measured head movement with extremely high precision. Static reference PET acquisitions were also performed without inducing movement. After data from the imaging devices were combined, researchers recovered PET images with noticeably higher resolution than that achieved in the static reference scans.

“This work shows that one can obtain PET images with a resolution that outperforms the scanner’s resolution by making use, counterintuitively perhaps, of usually undesired patient motion,” explains Yanis Chemli, a PhD candidate at the Gordon Center for Medical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, in a statement. “Our technique not only compensates for the negative effects of head motion on PET image quality, but it also leverages the increased sampling information associated with imaging of moving targets to enhance the effective PET resolution.”

While this super-resolution technique has only been tested in preclinical studies, researchers are currently working on extending it to human subjects. Chemli notes the important impact that super-resolution may have on brain disorders, specifically Alzheimer’s disease.

“Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the presence of tangles composed of tau protein,” he says. “These tangles start accumulating very early on in Alzheimer’s disease – sometimes decades before symptoms – in very small regions of the brain. The better we can image these small structures in the brain, the earlier we may be able to diagnose and, perhaps in the future, treat Alzheimer’s disease.”

The findings were presented at the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging’s annual meeting.

SWNS writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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