By: Daniel Glaser | How your MRI scan benefits science | Neuroscience | The Guardian
A precise map of a living brain is of immense interest to researchers – but won’t always help the patient
Sir Peter Mansfield, who died on 8 February, won the Nobel Prize in 2003 for pioneering magnetic resonance imaging. MRI, and the detailed images it produces, has been a huge benefit for the study of the brain. Its greatest innovation is allowing us to see which parts of the brain have been damaged while a patient is still alive. In the past, we had to wait until a postmortem to find out. Examining a high-resolution image of a living patient means you can form ideas about what’s really going on, meaning the research loop is much quicker. It may sound brutal, but the real benefit here is to the scientist. Rather than waiting for a patient to die, we can test hypotheses more directly, having a precise map for which parts of the brain are that have changed.
These benefits may have long-term advantages, but they don’t always help the patient. Unless immediate surgery is required. But they will certainly enhance our understanding which may help patients in the future. In neuroscience you don’t always have the patients’ best interest at heart – we want to understand the brain, but we’re not doctors.