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Will Scientists Soon Have The Ability to Palpate The Brain?

One of the most common techniques used by physicians to examine and explore the human body is palpation. However, one area of the body, the brain, cannot undergo palpation without using some kind of highly invasive procedure, such as a craniotomy (opening up the skull). However, by using techniques usually employed in seismology, researchers at Inserm have now been able to develop a non-invasive brain imaging method that gives the same information as physical palpation. It’s hoped that this could be used in the early diagnosis of brain tumours or Alzheimer’s disease.

Physical palpation currently used to assess many medical conditions

As many diseases involve a structural change in tissue, and a resultant change in mechanical properties such as elasticity, it’s possible to for physicians to use the sensitivity of their hands, together with their medical knowledge, to assess such things as the size and feel of a tumour, the size and position of a foetus, or inflamed lymph nodes. While palpation has been increasingly replaced or supplemented by more modern techniques, palpation has never been able to be used for the brain as it’s encased by the cranium and cerebrospinal fluid, making it impossible to directly or indirectly palpate the brain.

MRI has made it possible to use techniques used by seismologists to replicate physical palpation

However, by using MRI, the researchers at Inserm have been successful in the detection of shear waves in the brain using techniques used by seismologists, which have allowed them to build images of the brain’s elasticity. This offers a breakthrough for both patients and physicians as it could be used to detect stiffness in brain tissue, which is usually seen in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and hydrocephalus, without resorting to a brain biopsy.

Has the potential to be used in many different areas of diagnosis

This new discovery is also proving exciting as it could be used in other areas of diagnosis, such as providing an analysis of the development of neurodegenerative processes, how a patient is responding to a particular treatment, and the impact of lesions acquired from trauma or tumours.


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