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High Contrast

Refining MRI detection of brain tumours

15 December 2020

High Contrast

Allowing doctors to see inside their patients, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans are especially critical for diagnosing problems in the brain, from aneurysms to tumours. MRI creates images by harnessing the body’s magnetic properties. During a scan, powerful magnets realign subatomic particles, known as protons, in the body’s water molecules, then pulses of radio waves briefly perturb their alignment. When the protons return to their resting state, they emit radio waves of their own, and as different tissues vary in their response, measuring these signals allows us to build detailed images of internal structures. Modulating the characteristics of the pulses helps refine results, and researchers recently devised new techniques for improved detection of brain cancers. By selectively enhancing or dampening signals from surrounding blood vessels, they obtain clearer images, where small tumours stand out more (left panel, compared to a more traditional technique on the right), hopefully enabling earlier diagnoses.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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