Thursday, July 26, 2012
i-fMRI: Introducing a new post series
My colleague, MathematiCal Neuroimaging and I have been discussing what we see as flaws or limitations in current functional MRI scanners and methods, and what the future might look like were there ways to change things. So, in part to force us to consider each limitation with more rigor, and in part to stimulate thought and even activity within the neuroimaging community towards a brighter future, we decided to start a new series of posts that we'll cross-reference on our blogs. This blog will focus on the hand-wavy, conceptual side of things while at MathematiCal Neuroimaging you'll find the formal details and the mathematics.
We have loose plans at the moment to address the following topics: magnetic field strength considerations, gradient coil design considerations, RF coil design considerations, pulse sequences, contrast mechanisms, and motion and motion correction. We're going to hit a topic based on our developing interests and the issues that our local user community brings to us, so apologies if your fave doesn't actually appear in a post for months or years to come.
"You wanna go where? I wouldn't start from here, mate."
Blogs seem like the perfect vehicle for idle speculation about a fantasy future. The issues and limitations are very real, however, so that's where we will initiate the discussions. Then, wherever possible, we will gladly speculate on potential solutions and offer our opinions on the solutions that seem apparent today. But we're not going to try to predict the future; we will invariably be wrong. That would also be beside the point. What we want to do is motivate researchers, engineers and scanner vendors to consider the manifold ways an fMRI scanner and fMRI methods might evolve.
Note that in the last paragraph I referred specifically to an "fMRI scanner." A moment's consideration, however, reveals that most of the technology used for fMRI didn't arise out of dedicated efforts to produce a functional brain imager per se. Instead, we got lucky. Scanners are designed and built as clinical devices (worldwide sales in the hundreds to thousands) and not research tools for neuroscience (worldwide sales in the tens per year for pure research applications). A typical MRI scanner has compromises due to expense, size of subjects, stray magnetic field, applicability of methods to (paid) clinical markets, etc. Other forces are at work besides the quality and utility of fMRI. And these forces can be a mixed blessing.
Thus, part of the motivation for writing this post series is to provoke consideration of alternative current technologies; hardware or methods that exist right now but for whatever reason aren't available on the scanner you use for fMRI. Perhaps there are simple changes that can benefit fMRI applications even if these changes compromise a clinical application. For some facilities, like mine, that would be an acceptable trade.
What's in a name?
On this blog I'll use the moniker i-fMRI to label these op-ed posts. You can interpret the i however you like. Mathematicians might want to consider an imaginary scanner. Engineers might want to consider an impractical scanner. (This variant happens to be my preference.) Economists and business types might think of an inflationary fMRI scanner, because it's likely that the developments we seek will only drive the cost up, not down. And you neuroscientists? Well, we hope you'll consider your ideal fMRI scanner.
(Apple, if you're reading this - too late. We already sold the i-fMRI trademark to some company in China. Sorry.)