Tractography imaging creates beautiful ‘brainbows’ that are helping doctors treat tumours

12 August 2019

Right now, as you’re reading this, lightning-fast instructions are racing through the fibres of your brain.

Regulating your breathing. Keeping your core temperature stable. Comprehending the words on the page.

There are thousands of these fibres, each one working with its neighbours to pass signals along the chain.

But how do we image these fibres to try to make sense of this jumble? The answer — if you’re a researcher — is with lots of colours.

Put your brain inside a special type of MRI machine and add a number of mathematical models, and what comes out are “brainbows” — fantastic rainbow images tracing the nerve fibre pathways through the brain.

The modelling technique is called tractography, and although it looks beautiful, the images themselves can also be incredibly important to doctors.

“We use it to plan surgery,” explains Joseph Yuan-Mou Yang, a neurosurgery research fellow at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne.

“This imaging technique mimics the actual nerve fibre pathways in the brain. It allows you to visualise where these nerve pathways are supposed to be.”

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