August 28th, 2015 Text by WebContent
A doctor receives the results of his epilepsy patient’s MRI exam. He opens the set of dozens of images on his computer and looks at them one by one, trying to find an injury or an abnormality. In one of the axial cuts, he notices a subtle, barely perceptible difference. Is that little darker spot responsible for the seizures? There is no way to be sure. Making a diagnosis like this one is difficult, even for specialized doctors. An error could pave way to a highly invasive, risky and unnecessary surgery.
With the intention of helping both patients that suffer from neurological disorders and health professionals, researcher Wu ShinTing – from the Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering (FEEC) at Unicamp and also a member of BRAINN – creates computer software that enables innovative views of MRI and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) exams. The computational tools developed by her group allow physicians access to a much larger amount of information, so they can make more accurate and informed decisions.
INTERACTION TO OVERCOME CHALLENGES
Collaborations between Ting and the medical researchers began before the creation of BRAINN. About ten years ago, Ting presented her works to researcher Fernando Cendes, today BRAINN’s principal investigator. Cendes saw potential in looking at a three-dimensional images of the brain in a different way. Instead of the traditional straight layers, he would like to visualize them in curvilinear layers. Interested in the challenge, Ting began working on the development of a new algorithm.
After much research, months of studies and improvements, a first version of the program was completed in 2010. It was able to organize all the data and images from an MRI exam and provide the user with different views of the brain, straight or curvilinear, 2D and 3D.
“We realized that, depending on the angle, certain brain structures became more evident“, says Ting. “To facilitate medical diagnosis, our program offered multiplanar and curved cuts. Although there are other similar commercial tools available, our way of interaction is different”.
“Our bet is on interactivity – the researchers can move the cutting surface as they seem fit, either vertically/horizontally or diagonally, and observe brain structures from the angle they consider the best to confirm their assumptions”.
AT BRAINN, INNOVATION NEVER STOPS
Four years later, a new version of the software – even more innovative – was developed by Ting’s group. The tool now included the visualization of PET exams aligned with MRI. Thus, the user could merge the anatomical images of the MRI with metabolic results obtained by PET.
“In addition to integrating PET with MRI, our second version offers more angles and a larger viewing area, providing a comparative analysis between the two cerebral hemispheres”, says Ting. “We also made it compatible with Windows, Linux and Mac”.
So far, the application has been primarily used in epilepsy patients. However, it has the potential to aid in the detection of brain tumors and other neurological diseases. Ting says that the next step is to integrate additional medical exams options, in order to provide doctors with more information and make their diagnosis as accurate as possible.
Our lines of research are mainly focused on the demands for computational tools that corroborate the doctor’s conjectures. We always pay attention to new proposals to investigate suspicious areas, so we would like to add exams such as SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography), DWI (Diffusion MRI) and even EEG (electroencephalogram) to our tool”, says Ting. “Some of these projects have already started and are in progress, but we still do not have a prediction for when a new version of the program will be ready”.
If you want to know more about the history of the project, and view images and videos of the software created by Ting’s group, you can access its website by clicking the following link: