Neuroimaging also continues to evolve in translational research settings across UCLA. Unlike optogenics, which is used in animals to understand brain function, neuroimaging is a noninvasive to assess the structure and function of the human brain. The development of position positron emission tomography (PET), computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have altered researchers' ability to look at the human brain.
"The history of medical imaging at UCLA has a long and rich history. Even though it's' still crude, imaging has provided the first opportunity to see the human brain actually function."
-John Mazziotta, MD, PhD
The work was pioneered in the 1960s by Dr. William H. Oldendorf, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at UCLA who published his ideas for making cross-sectional images of objects. Oldendorf's strategies were the forerunners of PET, CT and MRI as well as later improvements on these technologies that allows doctors and researchers to see not only brain structures but brain functions, such as blood flow and metabolism.
UCLA researchers were leaders in mapping vision, hearing, thinking, memory and movement based on imaging studies, as well as providing the first functional looks at diseases like Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease and epilepsy. Moreover, Dr. Mazziotta helped launch the International Brain Mapping Center at UCLA, which is an ongoing project to map all brain structures and functions in various sub-populations of people. The atlas is available online to produce brain maps of individual patients or research participants. The research imaging program like the brain mapping center and others have not only developed tools and data sets for scientists but also techniques and methods for patient care, Dr. Mazziotta notes.
Imaging has allowed doctors to pinpoint blood clots in the brain and insert tiny tools to grab the clot and remove without damaging surrounding healthy tissue. And, prior to functional MRI, surgeons removing a brain tumor would have to wake a patient during surgery and stimulate parts of the brain to avoid damaging sensitive areas.
Research at the Brain Mapping Center led to the use of imaging that has made this practice increasing rare while allowing neurosurgerical interventions on more complicated cases.
UCLA neuroscientists continue to explore new ways to obtain data from imaging because, for now, it continues to offer a noninvasive way to look at the brains of living humans.
"Both pet scanning and MRI scanning still have a long way to go," Dr. Mazziotta says. "Pet scanning will continue to evolve as more and more compounds that allow us to see more and more processes in the brain. MRI may approach the point where we may be able to see the electrochemical activity of the brain, at least at a gross level."