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by: Kelly Sorensen May 2009
"We hope to have a better understanding of the neural mechanisms of schizophrenia, while improving diagnosis of the disorder"
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that an alarming 26 percent of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder each year. Researchers are investigating image-based methods to improve diagnostic techniques, enhance knowledge, and treat a host of mental disorders from depression to schizophrenia.
Traditionally, most mental illnesses are diagnosed based on behavioral symptoms, which can vary by day, be subjective by doctor, and overlap between disorders. The development of new methods to diagnose schizophrenia is the goal of imaging research being undertaken by Andrew Michael, an RIT Ph.D. student in imaging science, serving as a graduate research assistant at the Mind Research Network (MRN) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
This work is in collaboration with Dr. Stefi Baum, director of the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, and Dr. Vince Calhoun, RIT affiliate professor and director of the image analysis lab at MRN. Michael is using a variety of novel brain imaging techniques such as structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI, and diffusion tensor imaging to develop diagnostic markers that could be used to assess whether a patient suffers from schizophrenia, similar to how doctors now test for medical illnesses such as cancer.
For example, the team is developing data-driven methods to fuse structural and functional MRI of the brain. Fused images provide more precise and detailed information about brain behavior. The results of this effort support an existing theory called cognitive dysmetria and indicate that the cerebellum may be aberrantly connected to the rest of the brain in patients with schizophrenia. Outcomes of this research can possibly find consistent image-based markers to diagnose patients before they begin developing symptoms.
"Through this research, we hope to have a better understanding of the neural mechanisms of schizophrenia, while improving diagnosis of the disorder," Michael adds.