UMass researchers teaching computers to interpret MRIs

Collaboration with Baystate Medical Center will evaluate progress of stroke victims

AMHERST, Mass.--A group of researchers at the University of Massachusetts, in collaboration with the division of neurology and the department of radiology at Baystate Medical Center, is trying to teach computers to help interpret magnetic resonance images (MRIs) to determine how well stroke patients are responding to treatment.

More than 500,000 Americans suffer strokes each year, according to A. Bernard Pleet M.D., and chairman of the division of neurology at Baystate. A stroke occurs when an artery delivering blood to the brain becomes clogged or ruptures. "When a stroke occurs, the blood supply is disrupted, and brain cells are starved of oxygen, causing tissue death in the area. The effects of a stroke may be slight or severe, temporary or permanent. They can include weakness, difficulty with speech, or loss of memory," he explained.

After a patient suffers a stroke, doctors use MRIs to determine how much brain tissue has died, how much is healthy, and how much is injured but could recover. The area where the stroke has occurred, comprising dead and injured tissue, shows up as a bright region in the image, whereas the remaining healthy tissue shows up as a pattern of various shades of gray along with some white. UMass researchers hope to train the computer to separate the image into the lesion, consisting of the dead or injured tissue, and the healthy region. In addition, they want the computer to be able to give a reliable evaluation of the volume of the lesion. Comparing images taken before, during, and after treatment will then show quantitatively how well a patient is responding to treatment. This method, when perfected, would be quicker and more sensitive than current techniques, researchers say.

"The doctor knows what these blobs and squiggles represent," said Joseph Horowitz, of the UMass department of mathematics and st

Contact: Joseph Horowitz
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

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