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Seeing The Brain Like Never Before

Armen Hareyan's picture

University Of Michigan team uses MRI scans to help surgeons avoid crucial "white matter" links, because the brain is a very complicated place.

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From the outside, it may look like a gray lump of tissue, covered with ridges and bumps. But inside, an incredibly complex network of thread-like white fibers carries signals back and forth between areas of the brain and the spinal cord. Each fiber is crucial to a particular aspect of how our mind communicates with our body.

But until now, brain surgeons haven't been able to see those fibers, called white-matter tracts. Invisible to the naked eye, and impossible to see on normal brain scans, they fall victim to even the most careful surgeon's hand during operations to remove tumors or calm severe epilepsy. And the result can be permanent, unintended damage to the senses, movement, or thinking ability.

Now, advanced medical imaging is making it possible for surgeons to know where those tracts are