Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                         CONTACT:
October 3, 1997                                  Michael Schneider
                                                 Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center
                                                 Kevin Roark
                                                 University of Pittsburgh

                                                 Greg Wood

Watching the Brain in Action

Combining MRI, high-speed networks and supercomputing produces a realistic picture of brain activity in seconds.

PITTSBURGH — Scientists have created a powerful new technology for viewing the brain at work. Using high-speed networks to link an MRI scanner with a supercomputer, they've made it possible to convert scan data almost instantaneously into an animated 3-D image showing what parts of the brain "light up" during mental activity.

"Using the CRAY T3E and high-speed networking," said neural scientist Nigel Goddard of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center," processing that used to take more than a day takes about 10 seconds, and we're working to get it under a second."

Typically, techniques that provide pictures of the functioning brain involve a substantial delay, a day or more, between gathering data and the availability of high-quality 3-D images. The Pittsburgh team — which includes scientists at Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center — has cut this to seconds. Using a high-speed network connection between Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., they will demonstrate the new technology at a next-generation Internet symposium in Washington, Oct. 8.

"We expect that this technology will set the stage to use brain-mapping as a clinical tool in diagnosis and treatment of brain pathology," said Dr. Jonathan Cohen, who codirects the Laboratory for Clinical Cognitive Neuroscience, a joint venture of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon. Real-time capability will aid neurosurgeons in precision surgical planning, and it can be used to test and diagnose cognitive dysfunctions such as schizophrenia, amnesia and epilepsy. With high-speed networking, doctors at locations distant from the MRI scanner can actively consult in patient testing.

For several years, Cohen and his colleagues have used a technique known as functional MRI (fMRI) to do "brain-mapping" experiments. Data from an MRI scanner shows what sites in a subject's brain are active during mental activity. These experiments generate huge amounts of information quickly, and initially it took days to process the data into a high-resolution 3-D image.

To eliminate this bottleneck, the researchers turned to PSC. Carnegie Mellon statistician William Eddy and UPMC physicist Doug Noll worked in collaboration with Goddard and PSC research programmer Greg Hood to exploit the CRAY T3E, a highly parallel system that divides the computing among many processors. In November 1996, the researchers reduced processing time so that a realistic 3-D image of the brain could be viewed live, while the subject was in the scanner, with a delay between mental activity and image availability of about six minutes. The team has now cut this delay to seconds, and they are working to get it under a second, which will allow an improvement in image quality.

During the Oct. 8 demonstration, a test subject — one of the researchers — will lie inside an MRI scanner at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center while she does an experimental mental task. The MRI scanner will record data from her brain and transmit it via high-speed network to PSC's CRAY T3E, which will convert the raw fMRI data into 3-D images, compensate for head movement and identify active areas of the brain. From PSC, the data will travel to Washington via high-speed network, where observers will see the subject's brain as a translucent animation showing what regions "light up" as she carries out the mental task.

More information, including graphics and a narrated animation, is available on WorldWideWeb: http://www.psc.edu/science/goddard.html

The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is a joint effort of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh together with Westinghouse Electric Corp. It was established in 1986 and is supported by several federal agencies, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and private industry.

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© Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC)
Revised: October 7, 1997

URL: http://www.psc.edu/publicinfo/brain_10_3_97.html