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Brain Drain

Imaging the lymphatic networks of the human brain

18 June 2022

Brain Drain

It's probably not surprising that our brains have huge energy demands. This also means they produce lots of waste. Waste throughout the rest of our bodies is removed via our lymphatic system, but researchers were unsure if the brain used the same system. A non-invasive MRI scanning technique called 3D FLAIR has allowed researchers to image the brain’s waste disposal system for the first time in living humans. Typically, scans of this nature would require external tracers, which are not completely safe and can't access the brain. Instead, researchers used the signals produced by the lymphatic vessels themselves to visualise their location and confirm that the human brain does have its own lymphatic vessels. This image shows two scans as if you were looking up at the brain from below. The left image shows the brain structures, the right shows how the lymphatic vessels (green) overlay with those structures.

Written by Sophie Arthur

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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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