In 1992, Dr. John Mazziotta and Dr. Arthur Toga started with a Brain Mapping Programme in the Department of Neurology at the University of California (UCLA) School of Medicine to explore the structure and function of the human brain in health and disease. The researchers apply innovative brain imaging technology to produce visualizations from Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and alternative brain imaging data to obtain a better insight in neurological and cerebral disorders, such as cavernous angioma. It was this congenital blood vessel abnormality which was responsible for the death of Florence Griffith Joyner, the famous Olympic gold medalist, earlier this year. The multi-disciplinary research programme integrates different sources of information to support physicians with a holistic view on how to diagnose brain related diseases as well as optimize the safety of surgical treatment.
The Brain Mapping programme implements high-performance computing and cutting-edge medical visualization techniques to identify the delicate areas in the brain which absolutely have to be left untouched during surgical intervention. Accurate brain imaging helps the physician to operate precisely on the affected brain section, thus avoiding the surrounding tissue from getting damaged, explains Dr. Toga. The neuroscientific team at UCLA uses Silicon Graphics Onyx2 workstations for visual supercomputing to view and manipulate three-dimensional brain images in real time. The high speed rendering makes the results almost immediately available.
Recently, the UCLA researchers have used brain mapping on a patient who had experienced an onset of seizures. Careful examination proved that this patient was suffering from cavernous angioma. In this rare type of disease, the blood vessels in the brain tend to take on a abnormal form. Thanks to the pre-operative brain mapping, the surgical team, conducted by Dr. Toga, was able to identify the affected region as situated just above the brain area which controls the linguistic functions. During the operative intervention, while the brain was exposed, the surgeons woke up the patient in order to let him perform essential actions, such as speaking and reading, to activate the linguistic brain functions around the affected area.
The 3D images which are generated on the Silicon Graphics workstations help the physicians to clearly indicate the functioning brain areas and to locate the exact positions for making the surgical incisions. In this manner, any possible damage to healthy parts can be avoided during brain repair. After ten weeks of recovery, the patient was allowed to go home and take up his normal life. The seizures didn't return and the patient enjoyed complete restoration of his speaking abilities. Brain mapping thus has proven to be a great help for more secure diagnosis and surgery.
The ultimate goal of the Brain Mapping Programme, initiated at UCLA, is to provide a powerful means by which the researchers, physicians and students can learn more about brain function in any circumstance through the use of integrated data sets, that are collected and stored in digital brain libraries. In turn, Silicon Graphics co-operates with renowned academic research and technology centres to advance the research, diagnosis, clinical applications, and surgical treatment with regard to brain related diseases. Among the company's partners are the University of Florida Brain Institute and the Montreal Brain Institute. Please, consult the Web site of UCLA's Neurology Department for more details on the Brain Mapping Programme.