The Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine is a remarkable tool in the study of the brain, specifically its visual system. This technology has been shown to have tremendous therapeutic value for individuals suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, as well as for psychiatric patients with brain injuries or mental illnesses. For example, a recent study by an Italian neuroimaging institute showed that a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine (for) could be used to help with treating depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and bipolar disorder.
Although the fMRI visual system was first used in the 1970s to monitor eye movement and visual processes, it has recently become widely used in diagnosing a number of different conditions. Among other applications, the fMRI machine is being used in a number of medical treatments including:
The fMRI visual system consists of two pieces of equipment-a magnetometer and an MRI scanner. The magnetometer consists of a probe attached to the end of a wire or coil. The probe is placed in the mouth of the patient, close enough to allow the individual to breath normally.
A magnet is then used to create a magnetic field in the MRI scanner. The fMRI machine allows the magnet to scan the patient’s visual cortex. Once the machine identifies which areas are active during a particular brain activity, it then generates a map of that brain activity, known as verification. In this way, the MRI machine can detect where any abnormalities in the visual system might occur.
While we all know how the visual system works in our brains, the gyrification maps that the fMRI machine produces are useful for the diagnosis of specific types of brain abnormalities. For example, the magnetic field created by the MRI machine enables it to distinguish between lesions in the brain that occur due to strokes or traumas to the brain and lesions caused by a variety of other disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
As with many other medical technologies, the functional magnetic resonance imaging machine has many applications beyond the treatment of brain disorders. It is also useful in helping researchers learn more about the human brain and how it functions. Researchers have recently used fMRI technology to study the brain in children and adults, studying language processing, language development, cognitive skills, and visual processing.
Although gyrification maps are useful for identifying brain activity, they are not as precise as imaging devices which rely on the presence of blood flow and oxygenation. For example, a dye-substance imaging study can tell you whether or not a brain region is activated based on how much the brain absorbs and releases oxygenated blood. However, this method does not differentiate between hemoglobin and other molecules which carry oxygenated blood from the brain. Since gyrification maps can only be generated by imaging a brain at the surface, most researchers are still trying to determine how to directly measure hemoglobin and oxygenate in a living brain.
Other uses of the fMRI visual system include helping to develop a better understanding of the relationship between a variety of brain regions. It is possible that the fMRI visual system may also help doctors detect diseases early on and possibly treat them before they begin to damage brain function.