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Near-Infrared Scans Help Customize PTSD Care

June 23, 2014
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Neuroradiology
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Earlier this month, we reported on near-infrared imaging of the lymphatic system. Researchers are also using near-infrared imaging to study brain functioning—as in a new study that used the technique to help assess the effectiveness of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Alexa Smith-Osborne, PhD, of the University of Texas at Arlington has used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) in her work among military veterans suffering from PTSD. She is principal investigator for UT Arlington’s Student Veterans Project. The project offers free services to veterans who are thinking about attending college or are already undergraduates. She said it’s helping:

When we retest those student veterans after we’ve provided therapy and interventions, they’ve shown marked improvement. The fNIRS data have shown improvement in brain functions and responses after the student veterans have undergone treatment.

Dr. Smith-Osborne is an associate professor at the university’s School of Social Work. She was quoted in a university news release. She is also one of the authors of an article about the research published recently in the open-access journal NeuroImage: Clinical.

fNIRS measures blood flow and oxygenation and can penetrate to a depth of several centimeters in the cortex. It has a distinct advantage over MRI and other brain-scanning modalities: the scanner is portable. The new study involved 16 combat veterans who had been diagnosed with PTSD and who were experiencing cognitive problems. They were matched with 17 healthy controls. The researchers monitored brain activity as the subjects performed memory tests that did not involve traumatic memories.

The PTSD sufferers showed significantly poorer performance, and the brain scans found significantly lower activation in the right prefrontal cortex compared to the control subjects. The right frontal cortex is thought to be associated with the processing of negative emotions.

fNIRS scanning “shows how PTSD can affect the way we learn and our ability to recall information, so this new way of brain imaging advances our understanding of PTSD,” said Hanli Liu, PhD, a professor of bioengineering at UT Arlington and senior author of the journal article.

Dr. Smith-Osborne said the scans could allow customized treatment for individuals suffering from PTSD. “It’s not a one-size-fits all treatment plan but a concentrated effort to tailor the treatment based on where that person is on the learning scale.”

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