Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute and the Radiological Society of North America, have designed and developed image-calibration technology to study the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI). The technology has been adopted for use in multi-site clinical trials in the US and Europe.

By mid-November, the units, which went from conceptualization to commercialization in less than a year, will have been distributed to trial participants to help bring uniform quality control to brain imaging.

The principal diagnostic tool for detecting and monitoring microscopic changes caused by TBI is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). But MRI scanners are made by different manufacturers, operated in a variety of clinical settings, and generate images using different values for key parameters. To ensure that scans are accurate as well as comparable to images of the same patient taken at different times, or to images made on other scanners, physicians need a quantitatively consistent standard against which to calibrate their instruments.

Over the past year, a team of researchers conceptualized and made prototypes of a head "phantom" (calibration standard) the size of a volleyball, filled with containers of polymer solutions at various carefully prepared concentrations. These serve as standard surrogates for water having different rates of diffusion in the brain. Any deviation can be seen in a change in diffusion pattern, giving a map of the affected area.

The team said that the technology has applications beyond TBI, and is adaptable to various kinds of imaging in other kinds of neurotrauma, cancer, stroke, and in the study of neurodegenerative diseases.