About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
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Brain Waves

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March 17, 2004

Berkeley Brain Imaging Breakthrough

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Alexander Pines and his colleagues at UC Berkeley have discovered a remarkable new way to improve the versatility and sensitivity of magnetic resonance imaging and the technology upon which it is based, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).

"NMR encoding is exceptional at recovering chemical, biological, and physical information from samples, including living organisms, without disrupting them," says Pines, noting that MRI, a closely related technology, is equally adept at nondestructively picturing the insides of things. "The problem with this versatile technique is low sensitivity."

In their soon to be released paper in the Journal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging they explain how encoding and detecting NMR/MRI signals separately makes many otherwise difficult or impossible applications possible.

"For example, xenon can be dissolved in chemical solutions or in the metabolic pathways of biological systems, then concentrated for more sensitive detection. Other signal carriers can also be used for remote detection, including hyperpolarized helium gas for medical imaging or liquid oil or water for geological analysis. Since only the carrier reaches the detector, alternate detection methods, incompatible with the sample because they may be intrusive or require transparency, can also be used -- for example, optical methods that can detect the miniscule NMR signals from living cells."

Like Randall Parker, I too believe that the most interesting developments to watch are analysis instruments. While still in basic research mode, this latest laboratory breakthrough will slowly make its way into corporate and academic labs, greatly refining our basic understanding of human biology in years to come.

[Thanks to Kevin Keck and the Bay Area Futurist Salon for bring this to my attention]

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Neurodiagnostics


1. Randall Parker on March 17, 2004 11:27 AM writes...

Zack, Glad to hear you beating the drum for advances in instrumentation. The biological instrumentation developers deserve more support both in funding and in cheerleading.

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2. tom on March 18, 2004 3:38 PM writes...

I was told that NMR was re-named MRI when they found that people didn't like the idea of getting into any device with the word 'Nuclear' in the title!

Is there actually any precise difference?

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3. Zack Lynch on March 19, 2004 8:13 AM writes...


NMR = Nuclear Magnetic Resonance is the resonance that occurs when a nucleus (usually hydrogen, but any nucleus that has non-zero spin will work) is placed in a magnetic field and is 'swept' by a radio frequency that causes the nuclei to 'flip'. This causes the radio frequency to be absorbed, which is what is measured.

MRI = Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a more complex application of NMR in which the geometric source of the resonances are detected and deconvoluted by Fourier transform analysis.

ESR = Electron Spin Resonance is also a resonance phenomenon, except in this case it is the spin of an unpaired electron that is in resonance, rather than a nuclear spin.

SO, yes, NMR and MRI use the same basic technology.

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4. tom on March 22, 2004 10:50 AM writes...

So i guess we could say that NMR is the physical process and MRI is the intepretation of that process ('imaging')

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