For the past three years, Western University’s Dr. Andrea Soddu has taken part in an international research collaboration that has resulted in the development of a new imaging technique.

The collaboration investigated new ways of using MRI technology and focused on using functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure the oxygen density in different parts of the brain.

The main discovery that resulted from the research was the ability to measure the metabolic activity of a brain at rest — something unable to be done before. This new ability allows hospitals to use the MRI machines they already have instead of having to purchase a PET scanner as well.

The difference between PET and MRI scanners lies in the way they look at what is going on in the body.

An MRI machine can detect disease based on the physical change in a person’s anatomy, while a PET machine can detect the biochemical processes that may occur before any changes in anatomy are visible to an MRI.

Susan Martinuk’s study, The Use of Positron Emission Tomography (PET) for Cancer Care Across Canada, looks at how Canada’s healthcare system is very behind in regards to PET technology.

According to Martinuk, there are only 29 publicly-funded PET machines throughout Canada with a majority of them concentrated in Quebec (12) and Ontario (nine). The average cost of a PET machine is between $2.5 million and $4 million, which means that accumulation of these scanners will be slow.

In comparison, the Canadian Institute for Health Information noted as of Jan. 1, 2012, there are 308 MRI scanners operating in Canada.

Soddu is very excited about what the new technology means for patients across the country.

He explained the methodology had many applications not only for disorders of consciousness, but in patients who suffered stroke and other diseases.

“Brain tumors are in fact detected by measuring brain metabolism, showing higher metabolic activity in the presence of tumors," he said. "We would like to investigate if our technique could be used in a similar way to detect brain tumors as regions with higher stimulated activity.”

Melvyn Goodale, director of Western's Brain and Mind Institute, commended Western’s presence at the international level.

“The BMI is pleased that many of our core members have international collaborations," said Goodale. "This not only allows the researchers of the BMI to extend their own research questions into new fields and bring aboard collaborators who have complementary research skills, but it also helps to put Western more firmly on the international landscape.”

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