More MS news articles for May 2002

Dynamic brain atlas may help diagnose patients using advanced brain scans

Contact: Tony Stephenson
Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine

Scientists have today unveiled new technology that may one day help doctors identify subtle brain abnormalities that underly major diseases including many psychiatric disorders and dementia.
In many cases it is difficult to precisely identify the nature of brain abnormalities from brain scans. However, armed with a notebook computer, this system will allow radiologists to compare a patient’s scan with a brain atlas customised to that patient, which has been dynamically generated from hundreds of images stored around the world.

The Dynamic Brain Atlas project was created by scientists at King’s College London, Imperial College London and Oxford University with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Department of Trade & Industry (DTI). The project is one of several demonstrations that show the potential of e-Science and new ‘Grid’ technology, selected for the official opening of the National e-Science Centre in Edinburgh by Gordon Brown today.

Dr Derek Hill, Senior Lecturer in Radiological Sciences at King’s College London, said: “The Dynamic Brain Atlas could help radiologists identify subtle brain abnormalities that may not be clear from a brain scan. This is very important in the diagnosis of psychiatric conditions and dementias.

“Using this technology a doctor could use a networked portable computer to compare a patient’s brain scan from the hospital computer system with a dynamically generated brain atlas customised to that patient. This brain atlas will show the normal range of size and shape of brain structures for a person of the same age, gender, and past medical history as the current patient.

“Much like an Internet search, a doctor would enter in the desired properties of the customized atlas and click ‘go’. Using Grid technology the patient image is securely uploaded to ensure patient confidentiality, and simultaneously, images of many reference subjects that have the appropriate properties are securely accessed. Then computing power around the world is used to match each reference image to the patient to make a customized brain atlas.

After a few seconds the doctor can see the patient images alongside the brain atlas, or can see the patient images with features from the atlas overlaid enabling them to pinpoint the regions of the brain that are abnormal.”

The Grid is like a turbocharged Internet. The internet yields pre-prepared data from remote sites; the grid adds the power to process this data. It provides an infrastructure that allows sharing of dynamic collections of computational systems, large data storage and other remote facilities that an individual may use. The Grid is fundamental to e-Science, future large-scale science that can be carried out through global collaborations.

Professor Jo Hajnal, from the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, Imperial College, says: "This development could have huge implications for patients for whom conventional diagnosis fails. Through this technology, doctors will be able to compare brain scans, and spot problems more easily.

“This demonstration uses emerging technology and gives a clear vision for the future, although routine use of these tools in district general hospitals is some years away."

Notes for Editors

King’s College London King's is one of the oldest and largest colleges of the University of London with some 12,400 undergraduate students and over 4,700 postgraduates in ten schools of study. The College had 24 of its subject-areas awarded the highest rating of 5* and 5 for research quality, demonstrating excellence at an international level. It is in the top group of five universities for research earnings and has an annual turnover of over £300 million and research income from grants and contracts in excess of £87 million (2000-2001).

Imperial College London Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine is the largest applied science, technology and medicine university institution in the UK. The College’s Faculty of Medicine is one of the largest in Europe with over UKP 90m of research funding in 2000/01, and recently rated 5* or 5 for research in all its divisions. Web site:

Further information

Contact Ray Tang, Public Relations Officer, King’s College London; Tel: 020 7848 3075 or 6972 (Guy’s campus), Fax: 020 7848 3739, Email:

Contact Tony Stephenson, Press Officer, Imperial College London; Tel: 020 7594 6712