Looking for fireworks

Brain Ethics has a fantastic post by neuroscientist Thomas Rams√∏y who describes the discovery of a worrying brain pathology in a volunteer who took part in one of his brain imaging studies.

A 1999 study found that 18% of healthy participants have brain scans that might suggest some form of abnormality, although only a minority of these abnormalities were considered serious enough to require a referral for further medical assessment.

As more and more healthy people are being scanned for neuroscience studies, researchers are now starting to develop protocols and procedures for dealing with situations where previously undiscovered medical problems are discovered, as described by a 2006 Science article.

In his own work, Rams√∏y notes a useful technique he’s picked up for detecting brain abnormalities and what he discovered in one of his participants.

One of our radiologists told me to “scroll through the brain quickly and look for flashes”, just as a first approximation to detecting brain pathology. So I’ve done that ever since. Just that simple trick has actually been helpful, this case being the prime example. Above, you can see how the lesions pop out as white sparks in the brain.

For my subject, it means that we have detected a stenosis in both arteries supporting the brain. If untreated, they would eventually have blocked the bloodstream to the brain and caused widespread neuronal damage, maybe even be life threatening.

It’s rare researchers talk about instances when this happens, so Rams√∏y’s post is an enlightening look into a worrying situation that thankfully turned out well in the end.

Link to Brain Ethics article ‘Scroll through and look for fireworks’.
Link to Science article ‘Incidental Findings in Brain Imaging Research’.

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