Although there have been many studies on how to reverse damage in the brain, new research shows that the brain may be able to heal itself after an injury, according to Diagnostic Imaging. Results show that doctors may be able to use diffusion tensor imaging, along with other imaging techniques, to help doctors enhance the brain’s ability to compensate for the damage in the patients.
Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) looks at the brain on the molecular level and enables physicians to study the brain’s white matter in two and three dimensions. It’s been used to study both normal and diseased brains by providing insight into the neuronal pathways of the brain. DTI is becoming an increasingly popular MRI technique, and the pro football team, the New York Giants, conduct baseline DTI on their players to keep track of the players’ brain health over time.
Associate director of the Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Dr. Michael Lipton, conducted a study using DTI to analyze the flow of water in the brain. Seventeen patients were recruited from an emergency center, and DTI was performed within two weeks of injury. Researchers studied patients’ fractional anisotropy (FA), which is the flow of water molecules. Low FA has been associated with brain injuries for years, but the team discovered that some patients had abnormally high FA in various parts of the brain.
High FA is typically a sign of neuroplasticity, which is associated with a patient who is starting to recover from a mild TBI, and the imaging technique can help identify which patients are at risk for experiencing post-concussion symptoms. Patients in the study who had high FA levels in parts of their brain showed higher cognitive functioning and experienced fewer post-concussion symptoms.
While DTI can help doctors predict the long-term outcome of a mild TBI, the study revealed that the imaging technique can also be used to help identify therapies that don’t necessarily fix the damage, but aid recovery in a new way. As Dr. Lipton sates, “we’re not talking about new nerves regenerating, but we’re talking about existing nerves connecting and interacting with each other.”