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August 15, 2019

See the human brain in 'unprecedented detail,' as revealed by Mass Gen. researchers

Daily Briefing

    Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in paper that's awaiting publication say they've produced ultra-high-resolution MRIs of a human brain that represented some of the most detailed three-dimensional images of an intact human brain ever to exist.

    The powerful MRI

    To capture the images, the research team used an MRI machine with a 7-tesla magnet, which is significantly stronger than most MRIs in clinical use. Typically, MRI machines in clinical use have magnetic fields between 0.5 and 3 teslas.

    The researchers also built custom software that could reveal small details in the brain tissue, like small bleeds, swelling, and white and gray matter.

    4 'unprecedented' images

    The MGH performed the MRI on the brain of a 58-year-old woman who passed from viral pneumonia three years prior. The patient had no history of brain disease, the researchers noted. The brain, which she bequeathed to science before her death, was immobile, intact, and could stay in the MRI for 100 hours.

    With the high-resolution machine, the research team was able to capture the entire brain at 100-micron resolution at four different angles. For perspective, one micron is 10,000th of a centimeter. Previous research teams have captured a brain at 80-microns, STAT News reports.

    The MGH researchers have since shared the images, which include detailed anatomy of brainstem structures, the midbrain, cerebellum, and basal ganglia.

    The researchers in the paper called their images "unprecedented." They said they believe the images will "have a broad range of investigational, educational, and clinical applications that will advance understanding of human brain anatomy in health and disease" (Begley, STAT News, 8/13; Edlow et al., bioRxiv, 5/31).

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