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NIH awards $1.8m grant for brain imaging technique

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a $1.8m grant to a researcher at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin to develop a new technique for brain imaging.

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The four-year grant is aimed at advancing work on a laser-based technique, dubbed multi-exposure speckle imaging (MESI), that can be used to measure blood flow during brain surgery or after a stroke.

UT Austin professor Andrew Dunn and Douglas Fox of the NeuroTexas Institute at St. David’s HealthCare are collaborating on developing the method.

At the completion of the grant, the team intends to have a software system and tools available for commercial use.

The MESI technique can be used to expand a laser for illuminating the total surgical area at once.

According to the university, when the laser reflects off of tissue, it provides a grainy image or speckle pattern.

The fluctuations in the speckles will be analyzed, resulting in the conversion of data into a motion map for finding blood flow and blocked arteries.

Researchers believe that the technique can provide real-time measurement of blood flow to see how the brain develops new vessels to repair itself after a stroke.

Dunn said: "We hope to transform the images we have now and to be able to give surgeons quantitative data on blood flow that we can provide in real time, with no dyes and no interruptions to the surgery."

Fox said: "This technology has the potential to provide us with real-time, quantitative data regarding how well a blood vessel is working, which can help with aneurysm surgery or when treating other vascular malformations in the brain.

"In the future, we are hoping to be able to use this technology to determine a way to view the areas of function within the brain during surgery."


Image: The Cockrell School of Engineering team’s imaging technique shows higher blood flow in red areas and less in yellow areas, giving neurosurgeons more accurate information in real-time. Photo: courtesy of Cockrell School of Engineering.