• Researchers used powerful magnets and computers for the scan
  • They also utilized a method called light sheet microscopy
  • This may help better understand neurodegenerative diseases in humans

A team of researchers is taking brain scans to the next level. They captured an image of a mouse brain that was 64 million times sharper than a normal MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).

The "revolutionary" MRI was captured using more powerful magnets and a high-performance computer, which is equivalent to a whopping 800 laptops working on imaging one brain, according to Duke University. The work, which was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is said to be a culmination of more than 40 years of work.

Once the advanced MRI scan was done, the tissue was imaged using light sheet microscopy. The results were then mapped onto the MRI scan.

Together, these techniques resulted in the "highest-resolution MR images ever obtained of the mouse brain" that provide a "comprehensive picture of cells and circuits."

The scans are so crisp that they're described as "the scientific equivalent of going from a pixelated 8-bit graphic to the hyper-realistic detail of a Chuck Close painting." Artist Chuck Close is known for his incredible photorealist portraits.

In a video shared by the university, one can see just how incredibly detailed — and rather colorful — the new "ultra-sharp" scans are compared to the old ones.

"The methods have been used to demonstrate how strain differences result in differential changes in connectivity with age," the researchers wrote. "We believe the methods will have broad applicability in the study of neurodegenerative diseases."

Such a vivid look at the brain could have important implications, from having a closer look at brain changes in response to factors like age and diet to having a better understanding of neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer's disease.

In the U.S., neurodegenerative diseases reportedly affected 4.7 to 6 million people from 2016 to 2017 and were responsible for 272,000 deaths. The annual cost for these diseases in 2020 was $655 billion, including direct medical and non-medical costs, as well as indirect costs of lost productivity.

There are no cures for such neurodegenerative diseases and available treatments are mainly focused on alleviating patients' symptoms. Innovations such as the new advanced brain scans are crucial in the battle against them.

"It is something that is truly enabling," said study lead author G. Allan Johnson, of Duke University. "We can start looking at neurodegenerative diseases in an entirely different way."

Screenshot brain
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