WASHINGTON — A cutting-edge scanner that combines a whole-body, simultaneous positron emission topography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) could be invaluable in helping them better understand what changes are occurring in the brains of those suffering from TBI and PTSD, federal scientists said.
Biograph mMR – NIH Photo
“We are interested in trying to understand what brain changes are associated with traumatic brain injury and PTSD in the servicemen and servicewomen coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is only the second one in this country, and it is being installed here at the Clinical Center at NIH,” Walter Koroshetz, MD, deputy director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told U.S. Medicine.
Currently, many patients undergo separate MRI and PET scans. The Biograph mMR, however, will allow a more complete picture of abnormal metabolic activity in the brain in a shorter time frame than the separate procedures. The machine will be used primarily for TBI brain imaging research, although researchers at the NIH Clinical Center also will use the Biograph mMR in studies of patients with other brain disorders, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The machine was purchased through the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine (CNRM), a DoD-funded collaboration between the NIH and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Congress established CNRM in 2008 to bring together the expertise of physicians and scientists at NIH and USU to develop innovative approaches to brain injury diagnosis and recovery.
“A major challenge in the diagnosis and treatment of both military and civilian brain injury patients is the lack of sufficient tools to evaluate the type and extent of injury in a given patient,” Regina C. Armstrong, Ph.D., director of the CNRM, said in a statement. “We expect the NIH investigators have the expertise to take maximal advantage of this technology by designing novel neuroimaging protocols and molecular probes that can significantly improve how TBI research is performed.”
Diagnosing head injuries
Scientists are hoping to be able to see markers of injury in the brain with the MRI/PET that they cannot with current scans.
“The NIH has strong scientists who can develop new PET compounds,” said Koroshetz. “We are hoping to engage them to develop radioligands that will show biologic changes that are important, such as inflammation, axonal outgrowth, new synapse formation, membrane repair or abnormal protein aggregation in the brain after head injury. So, we are hoping to see with this PET/MRI scanner processes of injury and recovery that no one could see before.”