Scientists at the Massachusetts General Hospital are giving us an unparalleled look at the human brain. By placing the donated brain of a deceased patient in an MRI scanner for almost five days, the team managed to produce three incredible high-res videos of the organ and create a publicly available dataset that could prove hugely useful to the field of neuroscience.
“This dataset provides an unprecedented view of the three-dimensional neuroanatomy of the human brain,” the researchers write in their paper, which is currently available on the pre-print server bioRxiv. It’s important to note that the paper has yet to be peer-reviewed or published in an academic journal. Still, it provides an excellent example of how far MRI scanning technology has advanced in recent years.
The brain from above.
“We haven’t seen an entire brain like this,” Priti Balchandani of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, who was not involved in the study, told Science News. “It’s definitely unprecedented.”
The brain came from a 58-year-old woman who died from respiratory failure due to viral pneumonia. The patient had no history of neurological or psychiatric problems, providing a healthy brain for the scientists to probe.
Coronal view of the brain.
After being preserved for three years, the brain was enclosed in a special case made from a synthetic crystalline compound called urethane. This container allowed unwanted air bubbles to escape from the brain and ensured the organ would endure its 100-hour stint in the powerful MRI scanner.
The MRI machine, known as the 7 Tesla, has such good resolution that it can see details smaller than 0.1 millimeters across. The incredibly detailed images would not be replicated if a living person was placed in the scanner as minute movements caused by blood pumping and the act of breathing would compromise the image quality.
Side-on view of the brain.
Despite scientific advancements, many aspects of the brain continue to elude us – what’s the main driver of depression? Why do some people suffer from schizophrenia? What exactly is consciousness? The team hopes their data will enhance our knowledge of the brain and perhaps even shed light on the interplay between certain psychiatric disorders and structural changes within this perplexing organ.
“We envision that this dataset will have a broad range of investigational, educational, and clinical applications that will advance understanding of human brain anatomy in health and disease,” the researchers write. The data from their research is available here.