Improved brain scans now possible thanks to Australian researcher

Blue brain scan on black background

An Australian researcher has developed a new technique for developing brain scans with improved accuracy and speed, while providing a less invasive experience for volunteers. These factors combined have the potential to add significant capacity to the field of dementia research.

In 2012, Dr Phillip Ward was awarded a PhD scholarship by the Dementia Australia Research Foundation (formerly, the Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation) to investigate how blood vessels in the brain change with dementia, but quickly found the methods of obtaining a good picture of the brain to be lacking.

Consequently, Dr Ward shifted the focus of his research from looking at the larger issues of vascular health to developing a more accurate and non-invasive method for generating brain scans.

Dr Ward said there were previously few ways to conduct these scans and that none were perfect, with some generally considered to be more accurate in one part of the brain and less accurate in another.

What he and his team came up with was a technique for developing an atlas (or ‘map’ of the veins in a brain) to generate a new image called a Composite Vein (CV) image.

Dr Ward explained that generating each atlas was a painstaking process and involved tracing, by hand, a thousand images of the brain. When combined with MRI images, the CV images make it possible to easily identify the veins in a person’s brain, providing a better understanding of the vasculature.

The researchers hope it will soon become possible to create these CV images automatically using artificial intelligence and machine-learning techniques. This is an exciting development for dementia researchers, as it has the potential to add capacity to what is traditionally resource-intensive work, and improve the reliability of the research undertaken.

Dr Ward’s work has been published in the journal NeuroImage and he has recently begun his first Post-Doctoral appointment within the ARC Centre of Excellence for Integrative Brain Function and the Monash Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences.

Dr Ward’s work on CV imaging is currently being used in part in the ASPREE study, which explores the benefits of a daily, low dose of aspirin in more than 19,000 healthy older adults.


You can connect with Dr Phillip Ward on Twitter using his handle @PhillipGWard