Medical imaging

Physics lends a hand to medical imaging

According to physicist Jean-Marc Lina, of the Mathematical Research Center (CRM) at Université de Montréal, radiologists distinguish barely more than 20% of the information revealed by a mammography. “This means that 80% of the information is not interpreted, simply because the eye cannot make out all the details of the image.”

In his opinion, in a few years, analysis of images in medicine will be done mainly by digital instruments. The co-founder of PhysNum, a research group attached to the CRM, feels that the new technology will allow radiologists and clinicians to make faster, more accurate diagnoses than they do now. In recent work, Mr. Lina and his team succeeded in discovering malignant microcalcifications on a mammography using an analytical software program. These microcalcifications are precursors of cancer of the breast. They then showed the same mammography to a specialist at the CHUM, who came to the same conclusion. For Mr. Lina, these results show that computer technologies are getting better and better. “We don't want to replace the radiologists; but we do want to help them make a diagnosis by giving them a second reading.”

Since it was created in 1990, PhysNum has gone through several changes of direction. After working on civil nuclear reactors and artificial neural networks, in 1998 the research group moved on to the methodology of cerebral imaging. The work was initially done in collaboration with the imaging team at Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, and now continues under the umbrella of the Regroupement neuroimagerie-Québec (RNQ), formed in February. The RNQ brings together more than 70 member researchers from eight research centres connected with three Québec universities (Montréal, Sherbrooke and McGill). One of the objectives of the RNQ is to study the functioning of the brain in conjunction with its anatomical structures,” the researcher specifies. The research will enable them to “see” the brain in action. It will make it possible to better understand how a drug modifies brain activity, for example, or how the brain recovers after an operation.

What do physicists do in this group of neuroscience specialists? The role of PhysNum is to design mathematical tools in order to link together information provided by different kinds of cerebral imaging, such as the electroencephalogram, functional magnetic resonance imaging and optical imaging. Each type of imaging possesses its strengths and weaknesses: but when they work together, they can construct models of greater spatial and temporal precision.

Researcher: Jean-Marc Lina
Telephone: (514) 343-6111, extension 4078
Funding: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada


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