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MRI May Treat Dizziness—Without Scanning

March 21, 2014
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Neuroradiology
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Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore have been putting people and fish into MRI machines to research dizziness and balance disorders—without doing any imaging.

The powerful magnetic field of a resting MRI scanner seems to affect the fluid in the balance-maintaining vestibular system of the inner ear. The researchers have been exploring that phenomenon for several years and published two new open-access papers this month detailing some of their findings.

Earlier studies showed that people with normal vestibular function exhibit an eye movement called nystagmus. Their eyes keep drifting to one side and then jerking back. For one of the new studies, published online last week in Frontiers in Neurology, the researchers looked at nine patients with an inner-ear problem affecting just one side of their heads.

When placed headfirst in a 7 tesla scanner (i.e., a static 7 tesla magnetic field), those with a problem on the right side had their eyes drift up and then jerk back down. When the problem was on the left side, the eyes drifted down before jerking back up.

So a magnetic field test for balance disorders apparently could diagnose which side of the inner ear was affected. Magnetic stimulation might also supplant physical therapy for the disorders, which can involve rapid head movements that cause dizziness, said Bryan Ward, MD, lead author of the study:

Using magnetic stimulation, perhaps in a portable device that could fit in a doctor’s office, could offer an alternative that’s more comfortable.

Dr. Ward is a resident in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Johns Hopkins. He was quoted in a university news release.

The other study, published this week in the online journal PLOS ONE, involved zebrafish, which have vestibular systems similar to those of humans.

The researchers placed 30 fish, one at a time, in an 11.7 tesla MRI machine. (The fish were in an aquarium.) In the magnetic field, most of the fish displayed strong symptoms of vertigo, flipping, rolling, and swimming faster than usual. When removed from the scanner, the fish reverted to normal.

That suggests that zebrafish could be used as stand-ins for humans in further research on balance disorders.

The effect of magnetic fields on balance has only recently been discovered, so research is at an early stage, as these two studies demonstrate. But it appears promising. As Dr. Ward said, “We may someday have some practical applications for this anatomical oddity.”

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One Response to “MRI May Treat Dizziness—Without Scanning”

  1. MRI May Treat Dizziness—Without Scanning - Radiology Daily | welcome to radiologysecrets.comwelcome to radiologysecrets.com on March 21st, 2014 at 10:43 am

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