One of the limitations on doctors ability to treat many diseases is the inability to see the disease. That’s true with many cancers, where the exact boundaries of a cancer aren’t visible and isolated cell clusters can be missed entirely. It’s especially true with brain injuries, where relatively subtle dislocations of neurons can have massive consequences on functioning, pain and quality of life.
It’s also been a complaint of trial lawyers in injury cases. Juries can see wheelchairs and crutches. Internal injuries, especially of the brain, often don’t exhibit outward signs and make it harder to prove injury to skeptical panels.
Now, researchers at a Canadian university (Simon Frasier University in British Columbia) have developed a new use for a high resolution brain scan technology in the identification of brain injuries. This technique reportedly can identify injuries that are invisible to traditional CAT scans and MRIs cannot.
The technology is magnetoencephalography, or MEG. The method was pioneered at the University of Illinois in 1968 by physicist, David Cohen. It’s use to date has been to understand and map brain activity and assess seizures in epilepsy. The strength of MEG is precision: it measures brain activity in much smaller time increments and measures electronic signals that are quite faint relative to the environment in which most people function.
The use use of MEG to assess brain injury is new. This approach maps the passing of electronic signals between different regions of the brain. Changes in these patterns can identify injury when actual damage is too subtle to detect. Statistical modeling allows the doctor to determine the location of injury.
Why does this matter? We’ve seen how brain injuries can affect quality of life and even the ability to follow commands and make critical decisions in crisis situations. We’ve also heard testimony from people who have been injured and been accused of “faking it.” Now we may have the ability to prove injury in the absence of outward physical signs and make better decisions about what to do with people with real hurt.
MEG, like other leading technologies, is not readily accessible to people in all parts of the US. That makes the case for supplement insurance (e.g., the Aflac Accident Policy) to pay for travel that may be required for state-of-the-art treatment.
- Vasily A. Vakorin, Sam M. Doesburg, Leodante da Costa, Rakesh Jetly, Elizabeth W. Pang, Margot J. Taylor. Detecting Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Using Resting State Magnetoencephalographic Connectivity. PLOS Computational Biology, 2016; 12 (12): e1004914 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004914
- Simon Fraser University. “High-resolution brain scans could improve concussion detection.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 December 2016. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161207151305.htm>.
- University of Washington, Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, “What is Magnetoencephalography (MEG)?” http://ilabs.washington.edu/what-magnetoencephalography-meg
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “What is MEG?” http://web.mit.edu/kitmitmeg/whatis.html