Researchers to build children's brain imaging data bank

Johns Hopkins University researchers are building a digital library of MRI scans they've collected from children with normal and abnormal brains with the goal of developing a system that will help diagnose and treat younger patients who are dealing with brain disorders.

"We're creating a pediatric brain data bank that will let doctors look at MRI brain scans of children who have already been diagnosed with illnesses like epilepsy or psychiatric disorders," Michael I. Miller, a professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins and lead investigator on the project, said in an announcement. "It will provide a way to share important new discoveries about how changes in brain structures are linked to brain disorders. For the medical imaging world, this system will do what a search engine like Google does when you ask it to look for specific information on the Web."

The project is being supported by a $600,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.

According to Miller, doctors will be able to use the brain imaging bank in two ways: If, for example, they aren't sure what is causing a child's condition they could search the bank for images that most closely match their patient's most recent scan; this would be particularly useful if a diagnosis has been attached to the scan. The scans also could help physicians identify changes in brain structure early in the course of a disease that could help them prescribe an early course of treatment.

Such a tool also could have a positive impact on physician workflow, Miller said.

"We empirically know that a certain type of anatomical abnormality is related to specific brain diseases," Miller said. "This relationship, however, is not always clear and often is compounded by anatomical changes during the normal course of brain development. Therefore, neuroradiologists need extensive training to accumulate the knowledge. We hope our brain imaging data bank will not only assist such a learning process but also enhance the physician's ability to understand the pathology and reach the best medical decision."

Miller and his colleagues also are, along with Johns Hopkins neurologist Marilyn Albert, building a similar MRI brain image library that is focusing on brain disorders found in the elderly. That project is associated with the National Institute of Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

A similar kind of brain imaging data bank--called the Pain and Interoception Imaging Network--also is being developed with the support of the National Institutes of Health. That network will serve as a standardized database, containing hundreds of brain scans and other clinical information, for brain imaging associated with chronic pain.

To learn more:
- read the Johns Hopkins announcement

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