fMRI for clinical neuroimaging

In order to make fMRI fit for clinical application in psychiatric disorders, the groups of Klaas Stephan, Klaas Prüssmann and Dominik Bach are developing methods to increase image resolution. They will soon start the clinical validation of their enhanced technology.

fMRI has revolutionized cognitive neuroscience over the past 20 years with its ability to non-invasively measure whole-brain activity. Its application in the clinic, however, has been very limited so far. One key bottleneck is spatial resolution. The resolution of standard fMRI is too coarse to resolve activity in many brain structures with clinical relevance, which hampers the translation of research results to clinical applications.

As part of this three-year NCCR Neuro project that has started in 2014, Lars Kasper – in the groups of Stephan and Prüssmann – works to overcome these limitations by developing novel fMRI methods which considerably boost spatial resolution. He and his colleagues have worked on integrating novel MR field probe technology (see feature image) with advanced image reconstruction methods. By measuring magnetic fields concurrently with fMRI, the acquisition becomes independent of pre-calibrated imaging sequences. The optimal sampling, together with the use of array antennas at field strengths of up to 7 Tesla, makes the method extremely sensitive.

Physiological insights into neurological and psychiatric disorders
With the higher resolution fMRI technique, the researchers aim to better understand neurological and psychiatric disorders at the physiological level. This may ultimately lead to better diagnostic classifications and allow for individual treatment predictions. To validate the new enhanced technology, the group will start empirical studies on healthy individuals with induced fear and, in a second step, in patients with generalized anxiety in depression.

Prof. Dr. Dr. med. Klaas Enno Stephan, Institute for Biomedical Engineering, UZH & ETH Zurich More 

Prof. Dr. Klaas Prüssmann, Institute for Biomedical Engineering, UZH & ETH More

Prof. Dr. Dr. Dominik Bach, Zurich University Hospital for Psychiatry More

Feature image: In vivo functional image from matched filter spiral. A) shows fMRI brain image after advanced image reconstruction; B) represents the uncorrected image (courtesy of Dr. Lars Kasper; image was colorized)