Spatial Modeling of Brain Imaging Thrust

Thrust Leader: Dr. Patrick Carmack, Mathematics

Dr. Carmack, in conjunction with researchers at The Univeristy of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and Southern Methodist University, is pioneering the use of spatial statistical modeling to analyze brain scan data from Persian Gulf War veterans to identify specific areas of the their brains affected by Gulf War Syndrome. The new techniques have already been successfully applied to compare three dimensional Single Photon Emission Tomography (SPECT) brain scans of people suffering from the syndrome with those of a healthy control group. The team is working with renowned UTSW epidemiologist Dr. Robert Haley, one of the foremost experts on the syndrome.

Persian Gulf War veterans from across the country are currently being tested at UTSW using a type of four dimensional (space-time) brain imaging called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing tasks intended to tax regions of the brain suspected to be damaged by the syndrome. Rapid technological advances in medical imaging of the human brain like fMRI are imposing demands for new statistical methods that can be used to detect small differences between normal and dysfunctional brain activity. Dr. Carmack and his collaborators are developing new methods to analyze fMRI brain activation signals from images taken of each subject's brain to determine which patterns are normal and which are due to the syndrome. Previous analyses have been unable to separate real distinctions from noise.

Dr. Carmack's primary research is focused on extending the current three dimensional methodology to four dimensional fMRI data to identify these differences in brain activation from locations deep within the brain using measured brain signals that are weak and vary from location to location. This application of spatial modeling techniques uses information from neighboring locations to strengthen the weak signals in active brain locations so the signal can be reliably detected.

Some useful links:

  1. R, a general purpose vector programming language.
  2. A web site with easy to understand explanations of and links forĀ fMRI.
  3. SPM, a brain image analysis package.
  4. AFNI, a brain image analysis package.
  5. FSL, a brain image analysis package.