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Neurologists at Washington University School of Medicine adapted a brain scanning technique for studying the organization of the brain. Their novel approach may give doctors a tool for predicting the extent of traumatic brain injury and potentially avert some of the brain damage.

Functional connectivity (FC), the technique in question,allows doctors and scientists to observe visual details of the “health of brain networks that let multiple parts of the brain collaborate,” according to a Washington University article. Former studies using the same technique have revealed how damage to one part of the brain sometimes leads to disability in other parts. This is part of how FC studies can assist in predicting the extent of brain injuries.

The results of the recent study were published in the March issue of the journal Annals of Neurology. Marurizio Corbetta, MD, professor of Neurology, radiology, and neurobiology said, “Clinicians who treat brain injury need new markers of brain function that can predict the effects of injury, which helps us determine treatment and assess its effects. This study shows that FC scans are a potentially useful way to get that kind of information,” the article continued.

FC scans are done using MRI scanners which track various changes in the brain by way of monitoring blood flow. Variations in mental activity lead to changes in the way blood moves and concentrates in the brain. What scientists found in the study was that damage to communication networks between both sides of the brain led to more problems for patients and highlighted the need for a new understanding of how the brain actually functions.

Alex Carter, MD, PhD, and assistant professor of neurology told Washington University of the discovery, “It’s not wrong to say that one side of your brain controls the opposite side of your body, but we’re starting to realize that it oversimplifies things.” He suggested that the two halves of the brain vie for attention and maintain a delicate balance of effort throughout the brain. Further studies of FC are currently in the planning phase.

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