magnetic-imaging

Researchers explore why those with autism avoid eye contact

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often find it difficult to look others in the eyes. This avoidance has typically been interpreted as a sign of social and personal indifference, but reports from people with autism suggests otherwise. Many say that looking others in the eye is uncomfortable or stressful for them – some will even say that “it burns” – all of which points to a neurological cause. Now, a team of investigators based at the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital has shed light on the brain mechanisms involved in this behavior. They reported their findings in a Nature Scientific Reports paper.

“The findings demonstrate that, contrary to what has been thought, the apparent lack of interpersonal interest among people with autism is not due to a lack of concern,” says Nouchine Hadjikhani, MD, PhD, director of neurolimbic research in the Martinos Center and corresponding author of the new study. “Rather, our results show that this behavior is a way to decrease an unpleasant excessive arousal stemming from overactivation in a particular part of the brain.”

The key to this research lies in the brain’s subcortical system, which is responsible for the natural orientation toward faces seen in newborns and is important later for emotion perception. The subcortical system can be specifically activated by eye contact, and previous work by Hadjikhani and colleagues revealed that, among those with autism, it was oversensitive to effects elicited by direct gaze and emotional expression. In the present study, she took that observation further, asking what happens when those with autism are compelled to look in the eyes of faces conveying different emotions.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Hadjikhani and colleagues measured differences in activation within the face-processing components of the subcortical system in people with autism and in control participants as they viewed faces either freely or when constrained to viewing the eye-region. While activation of these structures was similar for both groups exhibited during free viewing, overactivation was observed in participants with autism when concentrating on the eye-region. This was especially true with fearful faces, though similar effects were observed when viewing happy, angry and neutral faces.

The findings of the study support the hypothesis of an imbalance between the brain’s excitatory and inhibitory signaling networks in autism – excitatory refers to neurotransmitters that stimulate the brain, while inhibitory refers to those that calm it and provide equilibrium. Such an imbalance, likely the result of diverse genetic and environmental causes, can strengthen excitatory signaling in the subcortical circuitry involved in face perception. This in turn can result in an abnormal reaction to eye contact, an aversion to direct gaze and consequently abnormal development of the social brain.

In revealing the underlying reasons for eye-avoidance, the study also suggests more effective ways of engaging individuals with autism. “The findings indicate that forcing children with autism to look into someone’s eyes in behavioral therapy may create a lot of anxiety for them,” says Hadjikhani, an associate professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School. “An approach involving slow habituation to eye contact may help them overcome this overreaction and be able to handle eye contact in the long run, thereby avoiding the cascading effects that this eye-avoidance has on the development of the social brain.”

The researchers are already planning to follow up the research. Hadjikhani is now seeking funding for a study that will use magnetoencephalography (MEG) together with eye-tracking and other behavioral tests to probe more deeply the relationship between the subcortical system and eye contact avoidance in autism.

MRI of the Fetal Brain

Advancements in MRI are giving us an unprecedented look at the fetal brain.

Until approximately a decade ago, what researchers knew about the developing prenatal brain came primarily from analyzing the brains of aborted or miscarried fetuses. But studying postmortem brains can be confounding because scientists can’t definitively pinpoint whether the injuries to the brain occurred before or during birth. 

Over the years, however, improvements to MRI are finally enabling researchers to study the developing brain in real time. With these advancements, researchers are just beginning to understand how normal brains develop, and how abnormalities can manifest over the course of development. Scientists cataloguing typical infant brain development with the mini-MRI hope to use it eventually to study the brains of premature babies, who have a high risk of brain damage. Ultimately, clinicians hope to intervene early with therapies, if available and approved, to prevent developmental disorders when there are signs of brain damage in utero or shortly after birth.

Read more here in Nature Medicine. 

Understanding bipolar disorder

The word ‘bipolar’ means ‘two extremes’. For the many millions experiencing bipolar disorder around the world, life is split between two different realities: elation and depression. Although there are many variations of bipolar disorder, let’s consider a couple. Type I has extreme highs alongside the lows, while Type II involves briefer, less extreme periods of elation interspersed with long periods of depression. For someone seesawing between emotional states, it can feel impossible to find the balance necessary to lead a healthy life.

Although there are many variations of bipolar disorder, let’s consider a couple. Type I has extreme highs alongside the lows, while Type II involves briefer, less extreme periods of elation interspersed with long periods of depression. For someone seesawing between emotional states, it can feel impossible to find the balance necessary to lead a healthy life.

Type I’s extreme highs are known as manic episodes, and they can make a person range from feeling irritable to invincible. But these euphoric episodes exceed ordinary feelings of joy, causing troubling symptoms like racing thoughts, sleeplessness, rapid speech, impulsive actions, and risky behaviors. Without treatment, these episodes become more frequent, intense, and take longer to subside.

The depressed phase of bipolar disorder manifests in many ways: a low mood, dwindling interest in hobbies, changes in appetite, feeling worthless or excessively guilty, sleeping either too much or too little, restlessness or slowness, or persistent thoughts of suicide.

Worldwide, about 1-3 percent of adults experience the broad range of symptoms that indicate bipolar disorder. Most of those people are functional, contributing members of society, and their lives, choices, and relationships aren’t defined by the disorder. But still, for many, the consequences are serious. The illness can undermine educational and professional performance, relationships, financial security, and personal safety.

So what causes bipolar disorder? Researchers think a key player is the brain’s intricate wiring. Healthy brains maintain strong connections between neurons, thanks to the brain’s continuous efforts to prune itself and remove unused or faulty neural connections. This process is important because our neural pathways serve as a map for everything we do. 

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, scientists have discovered that the brain’s pruning ability is disrupted in people with bipolar disorder. That means their neurons go haywire and create a network that’s impossible to navigate. With only confusing signals as a guide, people with bipolar disorder develop abnormal thoughts and behaviors.

Also, psychotic symptoms, like disorganized speech and behavior, delusional thoughts, paranoia, and hallucinations, can emerge during extreme phases of bipolar disorder.  This is attributed to the overabundance of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.   

But despite these insights, we can’t pin bipolar disorder down to a single cause: in reality it’s a complex problem. For example, the brain’s amygdala is involved in thinking, long-term memory, and emotional processing. In this brain region, factors as varied as genetics and social trauma may create abnormalities and trigger the symptoms of bipolar disorder. The condition tends to run in families, so we do know that genetics have a lot to do with it. But that doesn’t mean there’s a single “bipolar gene.” In fact, the likelihood of developing bipolar disorder is driven by the interactions between many genes, in a complicated recipe we’re still trying to understand.

The causes are complex, and consequently, diagnosing and living with bipolar disorder is a challenge. Despite this, the disorder is controllable by way of many methods including mood stabilizing medications, therapy, and behavioral habit-forming like exercise, sleep, and sobriety.

Remember, bipolar disorder is a medical condition, not a person’s fault, or their whole identity. And it’s something that can be controlled through a combination of medical treatments doing their work internally; friends and family fostering acceptance and understanding on the outside; and people with bipolar disorder empowering themselves to find balance in their lives.

For more information, watch the TED-Ed Lesson What is bipolar disorder? - Helen M. Farrell

Animation by Uncle Ginger

This month is Mental Health Awareness month. In educating yourself about mental illness, you can be a more empathetic and supportive friend, partner, or family member to someone suffering with depressing or another mental illness. 

It’s Now Time for Medicare for All

Senator Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Jeff Merkley, are introducing a Medicare For All bill in the Senate. It’s a model for where this nation needs to be headed.

Some background: American spending on health care per person is more than twice the average in the world’s 35 advanced economies. Yet Americans are sicker, our lives are shorter, and we have more chronic illnesses than in any other advanced nation.

That’s because medical care is so expensive for the typical American that many put off seeing a doctor until their health has seriously deteriorated.

Why is health care so much cheaper in other nations? Partly because their governments negotiate lower rates with health care providers. In France, the average cost of a magnetic resonance imaging exam is $363. In the United States, it’s $1,121. There, an appendectomy costs $4,463. Here, it’s $13,851.

The French can get lower rates because they cover everyone — which gives them lots of bargaining power.

Other nations also don’t have to pay the costs of private insurers shelling out billions of dollars a year for advertising and marketing — much of it intended to attract healthier and younger people and avoid the sicker and older.

Nor do other nations have to pay boatloads of money to the shareholders and executives of big for-profit insurance companies.

Finally, they don’t have to bear the high administrative costs of private insurers — requiring endless paperwork to keep track of every procedure by every provider.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicare’s administrative costs are about 2 percent of its operating expenses. That’s less than one-sixth the administrative costs of America’s private insurers.

To make matters worse for Americans, the nation’s private health insurers are merging like mad to suck in even more money from consumers and taxpayers by reducing competition.

At the same time, their focus on attracting healthy people and avoiding sick people is creating a vicious circle. Insurers that take in sicker and costlier patients lose money, which forces them to raise premiums, co-payments and deductibles. This, in turn, makes it harder for people most in need of health insurance to afford it.

This phenomenon has even plagued health exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

Medicare for all would avoid all these problems and get lower prices and better care.

Ideally, it would be financed the same way Medicare and Social Security are financed, through the payroll tax. Wealthy Americans should pay a higher payroll tax rate and contribute more than lower-income people. But everyone would come out ahead because total health care costs would be far lower, and outcomes far better.

A Gallup poll conducted in May found that a majority of Americans would support such a system. A poll by the Pew Research Center shows that such support is growing, with 60 percent of Americans now saying government should be responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans — up from 51 percent last year.

Democrats are wise to seize the moment. The time has come for Medicare for all

Interrogation as Torture

Interrogation is probably the scenario that comes to most Western people’s minds when torture is mentioned. The belief that torture can be used during interrogation is heavily ingrained in Western pop culture whether the story believes it ‘works’ or not.

I’m going to go over some of the most common misconceptions about what bringing torture to the interrogation table does and does not do.

Tell the Truth

‘Care must be exercised when making use of rebukes, invectives or torture as it will result in his telling falsehoods and making a fool of you.’ Japanese Kempeitai manual found in Burman 1943

The use of force often has the consequence that the person being interrogated under duress confesses falsely because he is afraid and as a consequence agrees to everything the interrogator wishes.’ Indonesian interrogation manual, East Timor, 1983

Intense pain is quite likely to produce false confessions concocted as a means of escaping from distress.’ CIA Kubark Counterintelligence Manual 1963

I can’t prove conclusively that in the history of the world torture has never ever once produced accurate information. Overwhelmingly often it does not. There are several reasons why.

Torture produces a lot of lies. Both people with information and people without information have a good reason to lie under torture. And they both do. The person with information does not want to give it up. The person without information needs to say something to make the torture stop.

Humans are bad at telling when someone is lying. When tested even people who think they’re good at spotting lies can’t do it consistently. It can be almost impossible to tell who is hiding something and who genuinely doesn’t know what’s going on. A person under torture might have already told the truth and started lying when the interrogator didn’t believe them. Which is exactly what happened to Shelia Cassidy when she was tortured in Chile in the 70s.

Pain and stress destroy the human memory. Experiments with willing volunteers have repeatedly shown that stress, pain and lack of sleep make it difficult for people to remember. A 2004 paper using US military survival school as the ‘high stress situation’ which simulated capture and interment as a POW (C A Morgan et al, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 27, 265-279) found that between 51-68% of soldiers identified the wrong person as their interrogator. Interrogations had lasted four hours with the interrogator shouting at and manhandling the volunteers. The low stress group identified the wrong person 12-38% of the time.


Torture results in loss of public trust. Most police and intelligence investigations live or die on public support. People coming forward voluntarily with accurate information. People reporting on suspects. In the long term torture actively recruits for the opposing ‘side’. According to the IRA this is exactly what happened in Northern Ireland when the British used torture. It also happened in Aden and to a lesser extent Cyprus.

Torture in short produces more lies than truth and in such a mixture that it can be hard to tell which is which. Because of the pain it causes torture can make it impossible for victims who want to tell the truth to actually do so accurately. And because of the effect it has on communities it often makes it harder to gather accurate information through more reliable sources.

Accuracy in torture is so poor it is ‘in some cases less accurate than flipping a coin’. (No that isn’t exaggeration, that’s a quote from D Rejali who literally wrote the book)

The Ticking Bomb

The famous ‘ticking-bomb’ scenario is a fictional situation (it literally came from a novel, written by a suspected torturer) where a disaster (such as a bomb attack) is known to be approaching and in order to save innocent lives the characters need more intel fast.

So they start debating whether to use torture.

Depending on the story and the characters they sometimes do torture. Usually if they do it gives them information they then use to save lives.

There’s another problem, aside from the total lack of accuracy for information that comes from torture. Torture takes as long or longer than other interrogation techniques.

According to the CIA’s own records detainees were put through several days of sleep deprivation before interrogation. The Senate Torture Report (testimony from Ali Soufan) estimated that their torture techniques took 30 days.

According to British records and accounts from the IRA during the Troubles a single torture session by ‘walling’ (sleep deprivation, white noise and stress positions combined) could last between nine and forty three hours.

I’ve selected the following quotes to give an idea of the time frame for short tortures used in interrogation. Both are from Northern Ireland by Irish men detained by the British. Emphasis is mine.

‘One powerfully built RUC detective would keep me pinned in a position while the other one would hold my elbow then press back on my wrist. And that could last for an hour or possibly two hours. And it’s excruciatingly painful, to the extent that I remember after three or four days I would simply go unconscious-’ Tommy McKearney

When I was taken away from Girdwood to be interned, I thought I had been there for about eight days, but it was only three. I later realised I was only being allowed to sleep for ten minutes at a time.’ Joe Docherty

Interrogation always takes time. And that time is measured in days not minutes.

Sanitised Portrayals

‘NO useful information so far….He did vomit a couple of times during the water board with some beans and rice. It’s been 10 hours since he ate so this is surprising and disturbing.’ Senate Torture Report, from quoted emails SSCI 2014, 41-42

For me this is one of the most noticeable differences between torture in pop culture and torture in reality. Torture in films and books is always sanitised.

I don’t mean that it isn’t gory or isn’t gory ‘enough’. Blood seems to be a cinematic staple and seeing the hero beaten and bloodied in a dingy lit room has become standard in a certain sort of action story.

What I’m talking about are the body fluids and products we’re trained to think are less acceptable. Vomit. Urine. Mucus. Faeces.

I can think of several movies where a ‘good-guy’ gets beaten to a bloody pulp on screen. I can’t think of any where they piss themselves. But losing control of bladder and bowel function seem to be pretty common in real life. A lot of the eyewitness accounts I’ve read about systematic torture mention the smell of urine and shit.

Vomiting is something I don’t see mentioned as often in survivor accounts but I think it’s very likely to occur frequently because a lot of common methods of torture produce nausea.


The ‘Tough’ Interrogator

 

It may be only later, outside of that specific environment, that the torturer may question his or her behaviour, and begin to experience psychological damage resulting from involvement in torture and trauma. In these cases, the resulting psychological symptoms are very similar to those of victims, including anxiety, intrusive traumatic memories and impaired cognitive and social functioning.’ Psychologists Mark Costanzo and Ellen Gerrity.

Those techniques [CIA ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques] are so harsh it’s emotionally distressing to the people who are administering them.’ Dr James Mitchell, psychologist involved in the CIA’s EIT program.

We are where we are- and we’re left popping our Prozac and taking our pills at night.’ Anonymous torturer quoted in Cruel Britannia

There’s a growing body of evidence that torture has a negative psychological effect on the torturer.

The evidence is for the most part anecdotal, based on patterns emerging across interviews. Torturers, funnily enough, don’t show up in droves for psychological studies. But there is a pattern. One of substance abuse, addiction, PTSD and suicide.

The cause of these symptoms in torturers is the same thing that causes trauma in people who witness horrific things. It is well known that seeing violent attacks on others can cause trauma in witnesses.

Humans are empathic creatures.

There is a measurable, automatic response in the brain to seeing others in pain. We can not control it and we can not stop it. Even when we are told that the other person is anaesthetized our brains still respond to their perceived pain.

This, combined with the destruction of normal social interaction and dehumanisation, appears in a very real sense to harm torturers.

If you’re planning to use torture as part of an interrogation scene it’s worth noting that some torturers do believe torture is a useful way to get information, despite the evidence. Some of them cling to the idea that they had to torture, that what they did was useful and saved lives. Some of them seem to overplay the value of torture in order to justify their own actions and jobs.

None of that makes them immune to the effect of torturing another human being.

Disclaimer

[Additional Sources-

‘Torture and Democracy’, Princeton, D Rejali (Only order this if you’ll be at home to pick it up, at over 850 pages it’s a monster)

‘Accuracy of eyewitness memory for person encountered during exposure to highly intense stress’, The International Journal of Law and Psychiatry C A Morgan, G Hazlett, A Doran, S Garrett, G Hoyt, P Thomas, M Baranoksi, S M Southwick, 2004 (This team have actually done a series on high stress situations and the effects on memory. Charles Morgan is the first author on this set of papers.)

‘Audacity to Believe’ Cleveland, S Cassidy

‘Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation.’ Harvard University Press, S O’Mara (Highly recommended, reasonably accessible for a layman)

‘Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture.’ Portobello Books, I Cobain (Very good history, although the author doesn’t seem to understand many of the techniques he writes about)

‘What are you feeling? Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to Assess the Modulation of Sensory and Affective Responses during Empathy for Pain’, PLoS ONE, C Lamm, H C Nusbaum, A N Meltzoff, J Decety 2007 (The experiments in this paper include brain scans of people seeing photos of a needle and a hand in various different positions, some of which would be painful. There wasn’t much change in brain response if the volunteers were told the hand couldn’t feel pain.)]

3

Magnetic Floating Rings

[Image description: A black dowel with green, red, yellow, and blue rings stacked on it. In the second picture, the rings are “floating” due to the magnets repelling each other. The gif has a light skinned person pushing the top ring down, causing it to spring back up quickly]

Though it’s only about 4 inches tall, this toy is a fun demonstration of magnetic properties. Each ring is magnetic, as well as the base of the dowel. This toy is portable, and provides both visual and tactile stimming.

Purchased from: Office Playground*

Hearing with your eyes – A Western style of speech perception

Which parts of a person’s face do you look at when you listen them speak? Lip movements affect the perception of voice information from the ears when listening to someone speak, but native Japanese speakers are mostly unaffected by that part of the face. Recent research from Japan has revealed a clear difference in the brain network activation between two groups of people, native English speakers and native Japanese speakers, during face-to-face vocal communication.

It is known that visual speech information, such as lip movement, affects the perception of voice information from the ears when speaking to someone face-to-face. For example, lip movement can help a person to hear better under noisy conditions. On the contrary, dubbed movie content, where the lip movement conflicts with a speaker’s voice, gives a listener the illusion of hearing another sound. This illusion is called the “McGurk effect.”

According to an analysis of previous behavioral studies, native Japanese speakers are not influenced by visual lip movements as much as native English speakers. To examine this phenomenon further, researchers from Kumamoto University measured and analyzed gaze patterns, brain waves, and reaction times for speech identification between two groups of 20 native Japanese speakers and 20 native English speakers.

The difference was clear. When natural speech is paired with lip movement, native English speakers focus their gaze on a speaker’s lips before the emergence of any sound. The gaze of native Japanese speakers, however, is not as fixed. Furthermore, native English speakers were able to understand speech faster by combining the audio and visual cues, whereas native Japanese speakers showed delayed speech understanding when lip motion was in view.

“Native English speakers attempt to narrow down candidates for incoming sounds by using information from the lips which start moving a few hundreds of milliseconds before vocalizations begin. Native Japanese speakers, on the other hand, place their emphasis only on hearing, and visual information seems to require extra processing,” explained Kumamoto University’s Professor Kaoru Sekiyama, who lead the research.

Kumamoto University researchers then teamed up with researchers from Sapporo Medical University and Japan’s Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR) to measure and analyze brain activation patterns using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Their goal was to elucidate differences in brain activity between the two languages.

The functional connectivity in the brain between the area that deals with hearing and the area that deals with visual motion information, the primary auditory and middle temporal areas respectively, was stronger in native English speakers than in native Japanese speakers. This result strongly suggests that auditory and visual information are associated with each other at an early stage of information processing in an English speaker’s brain, whereas the association is made at a later stage in a Japanese speaker’s brain. The functional connectivity between auditory and visual information, and the manner in which the two types of information are processed together was shown to be clearly different between the two different language speakers.

“It has been said that video materials produce better results when studying a foreign language. However, it has also been reported that video materials do not have a very positive effect for native Japanese speakers,” said Professor Sekiyama. “It may be that there are unique ways in which Japanese people process audio information, which are related to what we have shown in our recent research, that are behind this phenomenon.”

These findings were published in the journal “Scientific Reports” on August 11th and October 13th, 2016.

notes

@daftari


Sic your Galileo dogs on me, white mouse.

I am samurai sword surrender– gutted, guillotined.

Scraps for your esophageal sarcophagus.

Can’t you feel the tarmac scorching?
Wheels up and flaps down on the flip-side, homi-
ng pigeon.

Magnetic resonance imaging scan of my meat tree
reveals no rings, only spongy tesserae.
Blood absorption to its full maximum capacity.

Boing.

Eye-glue dispersal forthcoming; murder splatter pattern.

Look me in the eyes &
turn on
the black light.

2

In 2001, tragedy happened when 6 years old Michael Colombini was struck and killed at Westchester Medical Center by a 6-pound metal oxygen tank when it was pulled into the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine while he underwent a test. He began to experience breathing difficulties while in the MRI and when an anesthesiologist brought a portable oxygen canister into the magnetic field, it was pulled from his hands and struck the boy in the head.

Less Fear: how LSD Affects the Brain

Scientists at the University of Basel have shown that LSD reduces activity in the region of the brain related to the handling of negative emotions like fear. The results, published in the scientific journal Translational Psychiatry, could affect the treatment of mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety.

Hallucinogens have many different effects on the psyche; among other things, they alter perception, thought, and temporal and emotional experience. After the Basel-based chemist Albert Hofmann discovered lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in the 1940s, there was a huge amount of interest in the substance, particularly in psychiatry. It was hoped, for example, that it could provide insights into the development of hallucinations, and studies were conducted on its effectiveness on illnesses such as depression or alcohol dependency. In the 1960s, LSD was declared illegal worldwide, and medical research on it came to a standstill.

In the last few years, however, interest in researching hallucinogens for medical purposes has been revived. Psychoactive substances such as LSD, particularly in combination with psychotherapies, could offer an alternative to conventional medication. It is now known that hallucinogens bind to a receptor of the neurotransmitter serotonin; how the changes of consciousness influence the activity and connectivity of the brain, however, is not yet known.

LSD alters brain activity

Researchers at the University Psychiatric Clinics (UPK) and the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University Hospital Basel (USB) have now conducted a study into the acute effect of LSD on the brain. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the brain activity of 20 healthy people after taking 100 micrograms of LSD. During the MRI scan, the participants were shown images of faces portraying different emotional states such as anger, joy or fear.

Professor Stefan Borgwardt and his team showed that the depiction of fear under LSD led to a notably lower level of activity in the amygdala – an area of the brain that is believed to be central to the processing of emotions. This observation could explain some of the changes in emotional experience that occur after taking hallucinogens.

Less fear after taking LSD

In a second step, the researchers, together with clinical pharmacologists at the University Hospital Basel, examined whether the subjective experience altered by LSD is associated with the amygdala. This appears to be the case: the lower the LSD-induced amygdala activity of a subject, the higher the subjective effect of the drug. “This ‘de-frightening’ effect could be an important factor for positive therapeutic effects,” explains Doctor Felix Müller, lead author of the study. The researchers presume that hallucinogens may cause many more changes in brain activity. Further studies will investigate this, with a particular focus on their therapeutic potential.

So there’s loads of different neuroimaging methods out there that are used depending on what it is you’re looking for! I’ve had the privilege of actually studying it and there’s so so many different types more than just functional MRI that people don’t really know about so here are a few and what they’re used for an how they work.

MRI - Magnetic Resonance Imaging

The most commonly used form of neuroimaging and for good reason. MRI uses the body’s tissue density and magnetic properties of water to visualise structures within the body. It has really incredible spatial and temporal quality and is predominantly used in neuroscience/neurology for looking for any structural abnormalities such as tumours, tissue degeneration etc. It’s fantastic a fantastic form of imaging and is used in numerous amounts of research.

Functional MRI (fMRI)

These images are captured the same way as MRI but the quality is a little bit lower because the aim is to capture function (those blobs you can see) as quickly and accurately as possible so the quality is compromised a little bit. Nonetheless, fMRI usually uses the BOLD response to measure function. It measures the amount of activity in different areas of the brain when doing certain things, so during a memory test for example, and it does that by measuring the amount oxygen that a certain area requires. The increased oxygen is believed to be sent to an area where there is more neuronal activity, so it’s not a direct measurement but rather we’re looking at a byproduct. There are numerous studies trying to find the direct link between the haemodynamic response and neuronal activity, particularly at TUoS (where I’m doing my masters!) but for the moment this is all we have. This sort of imaging is used a lot for research and checking the general function of the brain, so if you were to have had surgery on your brain, they may run one of these just to see which areas might be affected from it and how, or in research we’ve used this a lot to research cognition - which areas are affected during certain cognitive tasks (ie my MSc thesis - Cognition in schizophrenia and consanguinity). 

Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI)

This is my current favourite type of NI right now! DTI is beautiful, unique and revolutionary in this day and age, it’s almost like sci-fi stuff! DTI measures the rate of water diffusion along white matter tracts and with that calculates the directions and structural integrity of them to create these gorgeous white matter brain maps. They are FANTASTIC for finding structural damage in white matter - something that is making breakthroughs in research lately ie. schizophrenia, genetics and epilepsy. It measures the rate of diffusion which tells you about possible myelin/axonal damage and anisotropy, so the directions and if they are “tightly wound” or loosely put together - think of it like rope, good FA is a good strong rope, poor FA is when it starts to fray and go off in different directions - like your white matter tracts. My current research used DTI and it was honestly surreal to work with, the images are also acquired through an MRI scanner so you can actually get these images the same time you’re getting MRI’s done, functional or otherwise! 

Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

One of the “controversies” (if you could call it that) is the use of radioactive substances in PET scanning. It requires the injection of a nuclear medicine to have the metabolic processes in your brain light up like Christmas! It uses a similar functional hypothesis to BOLD fMRI, in that it is based on the assumption that higher functional areas would have higher radioactivity and that’s why it lights up in a certain way. It depends on glucose or oxygen metabolism, so high amounts of glucose/oxygen metabolism would show up red and less active areas would show up blue, perfect for showing any functional abnormalities in the overall brain. However it has incredibly poor temporal resolution and due to it’s invasive nature, MRI is chosen more often. (The pictures are gorgeous though!) 

Electroencephalography/Magnetoencephalography (EEG & MEG)

These are not “imaging” types in the stereotypical sense. They create a series of waves that you can physically see (think of the lines you get on a lie detector!). Electrodes/Tiny magnets are placed on the scalp/head in specific areas corresponding to certain brain structures. EEG picks up on electrical activity which is the basis of neuronal function, whereas MEG picks up on magnetic fields - the same property that is utilised by MRI. One of the biggest issues with EEG is that deeper structures passing through tissues get distorted, whereas MEG doesn’t because it only measures the magnetic properties. I’ve not had a lot of experience with either of these but I do know EEG is used in a lot of medical procedures to measure brain activity, from measuring seizures and sleep disorders to measuring brain activity in a coma. It’s fantastic and if you can actually figure out how to conduct and interpret results it’s an invaluable tool into looking at electrical activity. 

Wave of the future: Terahertz chips a new way of seeing through matter

Electromagnetic pulses lasting one millionth of a millionth of a second may hold the key to advances in medical imaging, communications and drug development. But the pulses, called terahertz waves, have long required elaborate and expensive equipment to use.

Now, researchers at Princeton University have drastically shrunk much of that equipment: moving from a tabletop setup with lasers and mirrors to a pair of microchips small enough to fit on a fingertip.

Keep reading

Out-of-body flight “really” happens, then–it is a real physical event, but only in the patient’s brain and, as a result, in his subjective experience. The out-of-body state is, by and large, an exacerbated form of the dizziness that we all experience when our vision disagrees with our vestibular system, as on a rocking boat.

Blanke went on to show that any human can leave her body: he created just the right amount of stimulation, via synchronized but delocalized visual and touch signals, to elicit an out-of-body experience in the normal brain. Using a clever robot, he even managed to re-create the illusion in a magnetic resonance imager. And while the scanned person experienced the illusion, her brain lit up in the temporoparietal junction–very close to where the patient’s lesions were located.

We still do not know exactly how this region works to generate a feeling of self-location. Still, the amazing story of how the out-of-body state moved from the parapsychological curiosity to mainstream neuroscience gives a message of hope. Even outlandish subjective phenomena can be traced back to their neural origins. The key is to treat such introspections with just the right amount of seriousness. They do not give direct insights into our brain’s inner mechanisms; rather, they constitute the raw material on which a solid science of consciousness can be properly founded.
—  Dehaene, Stanislas. Consciousness and The Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts. NY, NY: Viking, 2014. 44-45. Print.

July 14 Solar Flare and a Coronal Mass Ejection

A medium-sized (M2) solar flare and a coronal mass ejection (CME) erupted from the same, large active region of the sun on July 14, 2017. The flare lasted almost two hours, quite a long duration. The coils arcing over this active region are particles spiraling along magnetic field lines, which were reorganizing themselves after the magnetic field was disrupted by the blast. Images were taken in a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light.

Solar flares are giant explosions on the sunthat send energy, light and high speed particles into space. These flares are often associated with solar magnetic storms known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). While these are the most common solar events, the sun can also emit streams of very fast protons – known as solar energetic particle (SEP) events – and disturbances in the solar wind known as corotating interaction regions (CIRs).

The Solar Dynamics Observatory is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Its Atmosphere Imaging Assembly was built by the Lockheed Martin Solar Astrophysics Laboratory (LMSAL), Palo Alto, California.

More: Animations of the solar flare

Image Credit: NASA/GSFC/Solar Dynamics Observatory

Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)

Time And Space

The Element: Earth

Earth represents strength, abundance, stability, prosperity, wealth and femininity. In rituals, Earth is represented in the forms of burying objects in the earth, herbalism, and making images out of wood or stone.

Gender: Feminine

Direction: North

Energy: Receptive

Symbols: Rocks, fields, soil, salt, caves, clay

Placing on Pentagram: Lower left

Time: Midnight, night

Cycle of Life: Age

Season: Winter

Colours: Black, green, yellow, brown

Zodiac signs: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn

Sense: Touch

Stones/Jewels: Rock crystal, emerald, onyx, jasper, salt, azurite, amethyst, quartz

Magickal tools: Pentacle, Pentagram, salt, images, stones, gems, cords

Metals: Iron, lead

Herbal: Ivy, grains, oats, rice, patchouli, lichens

Trees: Cypress, Honeysuckle, Jasmin, Lilac (some say Lilac is Water)

Animals: Cow, bull, dog, horse, ant, bears, wolf

Type of Magick: Gardening, magnet images, stone (jewel divination, work with crystals), knot, Binding, money spells, grounding, finding treasures, runes.

Ritual action: Burying, making effigies, planting trees or herbs

Bird’s-eye (axial) view of nerve fibers in a normal, healthy adult human brain. Brain cells communicate with each other through these nerve fibers, which have been visualized using diffusion weighted magnetic resonance imaging. Diffusion weighted imaging is a specialized type of MRI scan which measures water diffusion in many directions in order to reconstruct the orientation of the nerve fibers. Since these images are in 3D, colors have been used to represent the direction of the fibers: blue is for fibers traveling up/down, green for front/back, and red for left/right. These patterns of connectivity in the brain are being used to study brain development and developmental disorders such as dyslexia.

Image and caption courtesy of Zeynep M. Saygin, McGovern Institute, MIT, Wellcome Images