How to get a picture of your brain in action in ten seconds ...

Pittsburgh, 17 October 97 If you have ever asked yourself what a supercomputer can do for ordinary people, you should have a look at what is happening at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. Scientists there have succeeded in converting scan data almost immediately into an animated 3-D image of the patient's brain activity by linking a MRI scanner with a supercomputer using high-speed networks. The Pittsburgh team, including physicians and technologists at Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh MedicalCenter and Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, have demonstrated this ten seconds brain-mapping on October 8th 1997 at the next-generation Internet symposium in Washington D.C.

In November 1996, the Pittsburgh researchers exploited the Cray T3E, a high performance parallel system, to create a realistic 3-D image of mental activity for instantaneous viewing while the patient was still in the scanner. The time lapse between the specified brain functioning and image availability amounted to six minutes. At present, the delay has been cut down to ten seconds and one is aiming at reducing it to less than a second to obtain even better image quality.

This technological feat offers great benefits for both physicians and patients. From now on, brain-mapping can be used as a clinical tool in diagnosis and treatment of brain pathology, according to Dr. Jonathan Cohen, codirector of the Laboratory for Clinical Cognitive Neuroscience, a joint venture of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon. Cognitive disfunctions such as schizophrenia, amnesia and epilepsy will be tracked down more accurately in the future. Immediate 3-D brain viewing will help neurosurgeons in their operational planning. Thanks to high-speed networking, doctors at remote distance from the MRI scanner will be able to assist in consulting.

Last October 8th, the participants of the Washington Internet symposium received a chance to admire thePittsburgh data travel demonstration show. One of the researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center volunteered as a scanner patient while carrying out an experimental mental task. In the meanwhile, the MRI scanner was recording data from her brain and transmitting them via high-speed network to the Cray T3E supercomputer. This system then converted the raw MRI data into 3-D images compensating at the same time for head movement and identifying active areas of the brain. From the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, the data were sent to Washington via high-speed network where the observers could see within seconds the subject's brain as a translucent animation. A brilliant piece of computing art.

If you like to know more about brain-watching combining MRI, high-speed networks and supercomputing, we invite you to have a look at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing site which is offering some interesting graphics and a narrated animation.

Leslie Versweyveld