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Looking At Child MRI Brain Scans Like Picasso

January 20, 2014
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology, Pediatric Radiology
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A new digital library of children’s MRI brain scans will, its creators hope, allow radiologists and other physicians to look at neurological images in new ways—as Picasso did.

Michael Miller, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, made the comparison with the 20th-century artist Pablo Picasso. Dr. Miller is helping to create the library, which will include scans of both normal brains and brains of children diagnosed with illnesses or disorders.

Dr. Miller directs the university’s Center for Imaging Science and is on the faculty at the university’s Institute for Computational Medicine. In a video explaining the project, he spoke of how artists approach images:

Picasso was maybe the greatest image understander we’ve ever had. He totally shattered the surface. … We’ve been trying to do this for shape and form and function in medical images.

The video accompanies a Johns Hopkins news release about the project. In the release itself, Dr. Miller explained, “We’re creating a pediatric brain data bank that will let doctors look at MRI brain scans of children who have already been diagnosed with illnesses like epilepsy or psychiatric disorders.”

Engineers and radiologists are working on making the online data bank searchable by image characteristics—breaking down an image into component parts the way one of Picasso’s Cubist paintings depicts an image from multiple viewpoints at once. “If doctors aren’t sure which disease is causing a child’s condition,” Dr. Miller said, “they could search the data bank for images that closely match their patient’s most recent scan.”

The pilot data bank contains images of more than 5,000 whole-brain MRI scans of children treated at Johns Hopkins. The software indexes up to 1,000 structural measurements in 250 regions of the brain, sorted into 22 disease categories.

“For the medical imaging world,” Dr. Miller said, “this system will do what a search engine like Google does when you ask it to look for specific information on the Web.”

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