Education, tips and tricks to help you conduct better fMRI experiments.
Sure, you can try to fix it during data processing, but you're usually better off fixing the acquisition!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Making tracks for charity

This is going to be among the more unusual blog posts I've written. Here goes nothing.

The back story. A few years ago I decided to take a stab at writing fiction. The result was Bubble Chamber, an academic satire with a scientific twist. My intention? To see if I could write a novel, to actually finish it and get it into the public domain as an end point. Check! The process wasn't even sufficiently painful to dissuade me from future forays into novel writing. Just not yet, I have too many other irons in the old fire.

Towards the bottom of the post you can read a synopsis of Bubble Chamber along with a little contrived biography of yours truly. I am also tempted to include here a link to Amazon so that you might procure a copy of my literary scribbling for yourself. But I won't do that just yet. We need to make a quick detour.

Dementia Adventure

It transpires that a young Englishman by the name of Chris Graham has been steadily riding his bicycle, solo and unsupported, around the circumference of Canada and the USA since the beginning of May. He is now in Maine, approaching Canada for the second time and about to commence the last leg of his marathon journey. His current location, as well as the route already completed, can be seen in real time courtesy of his YBTracking page. A flight back home to the UK on Christmas Eve beckons as the final reward for all of Chris's hard work. (Motto: If in doubt, pedal!)

Chris is doing his ride for charity. Specifically, Chris is raising money for Alzheimer's Research UK. You see, Chris is likely to develop dementia in a not too distant future. He carries the gene for early onset Alzheimer's, a disease that has claimed the lives of many of his close relatives, including is father and grandfather, at an age that Chris himself is now rapidly approaching. You can learn more about Chris and his family history on his web page.

This is no sob story, however. Far from it. In fact, following Chris on his Facebook page has brought smiles and laughs to many thousands of people this year. Watch one of his video updates then tell me you won't be back to see what happens next! Better yet, quit reading this blog and pop on over to Chris's Just Giving web page to send him some money right now, then go peruse the photos and videos on his Facebook page. Thanks, and goodbye!

If I didn't just lose you to an immediate donation then I have a proposition for you. Chris is a mere three lousy UK grand from hitting a £40K target and I want to do a little something to help him get there. All proceeds arising out of sales of my aforementioned novel were committed 100% to charity from the moment I conceived of writing it. That hasn't and won't change. An assisted living charity in the eastern US has received very occasional, very small checks over the years. But for the rest of this year at least, all proceeds from sales of Bubble Chamber - available via this Amazon page - will go to Dementia Adventure. I am also going to send along an equivalent amount of my own money for each copy sold so that you have extra inducement to go buy the book.

If you prefer to ignore my book entirely and simply donate to Chris that is just peachy. Or donate to Chris and then go buy the book, I won't stop you. Either way, join Chris virtually as he goes into the last three weeks of a truly epic bike ride. Along the way, take the time to think about just what it is you want to achieve with what remains of your life. We could probably all use a little bit more of Chris Graham's irrepressible spirit.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Functional MRI of dolphins?

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed that I've been scanning some post mortem brains of Cetacea over the past year or so. That's whales, dolphins and porpoises to you and me. The brains come in all shapes and sizes, from a rather tiny Amazon river dolphin, about the size of a fist, to fin and sei whale brains that are so wide they have to be inserted sideways, hemisphere-first, into the 3 T (human) head coil. The conditions and ages of the brains vary tremendously as well. Some have been fixed in formaldehyde for decades yet yield remarkably decent signal, others have been stored in ethanol and are as hard as rubber with T2 to match. A few months ago we obtained a recently deceased fresh brain of a white-sided dolphin which we were able to scan within about twelve hours of its demise. The image quality was magnificent.

What do we plan to do with all the post mortem data? That is still being formulated. Initial motivation for the project came from some Berkeley anthropologists with an interest in comparative neuroanatomy across higher mammalian species. Coincidentally, Greg Berns' group at Emory has recently produced a nice example of dolphin brain tractography and his recent study is a good example of what might be done in future. There's a commentary on Greg's study here, and an example image from his paper below. We are now determining how we might combine resources, share data and all that good stuff. More on what will be available to whom and when as we progress.

From: Berns et al.

In any case, after I posted the white-sided dolphin MRI to Twitter someone asked, likely facetiously (I suppose that should be flippantly), whether functional MRI was next. FMRI of dolphins was the subject of an April Fool's Day joke a few years ago, and it does seem far-fetched at first blush. So, too, does studying trained dogs with fMRI, but Greg Berns' team is already doing that. Since thought experiments are cheap I figured I'd write a blog post to consider what might be feasible today if one were sufficiently motivated (read sufficiently well funded) to want to do fMRI of cetaceans. If nothing else we might learn something as we're forced to consider the manifold factors.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Functional MRI of trained dogs

One of the delightful aspects of running an imaging facility is the sheer variety of projects coming through the door. Late last year my boss told me he'd been discussing with a group from Emory University about doing fMRI on trained dogs at our center. I'll confess to receiving the suggestion unenthusiastically, if only because I envisioned a mass of bureaucracy followed by a head-on logistical collision between the dog group and the dozens of human users. Activity at our center oscillates between hectic and frenetic, depending on the day. But, as it turned out I needn't have worried. The bureaucracy was handled admirably by the Emory folks while the logistical issues simply failed to materialize because of the professionalism of the dog fMRI team. It's been an enjoyable experience. And there are dogs. Many boisterous, happy, playful yet exceedingly well-trained dogs. Like these:

Monday, May 18, 2015

Checklist for fMRI acquisition methods reporting in the literature: version 1.3

The latest version of the fMRI acquisition checklist is now available at The Winnower via this link. It can also be located/cited using DOI: 10.15200/winn.143191.17127 .

Updates/changes from v1.2:
  • The “Pre-scan normalization” parameter has been renamed “Signal intensity correction/normalization” to broaden its scope.
  • Reviewed and revised explanatory notes.
  • New parameters: RO partial Fourier scheme, Number of echoes, Saturation bands, Gradient non-linearity correction, Z-shim gradient correction, On-resonance adjustment.

The current list should work now for most simultaneous multislice (SMS) EPI, multi-echo EPI (or spiral) and 7 T experiments, but additional emphasis will be placed on these advanced methods in the next round. Please let me know of parameters you'd like included. The next planned update will include as far as possible the vendor-specific nomenclature for each parameter. I anticipate a late 2015 release date. There are no plans yet to do a machine-readable version of the checklist, as originally discussed, but that is only because nobody has been asking for it. Please get in touch if this is something you're interested in.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Uploading to The Winnower from Blogger: A real time tutorial

So I have a memory like a sieve except that it's profoundly less useful in the kitchen. And because I know from painful experience that anything I don't document never happened, I am going to help myself and you by creating in real time a tutorial to upload blog posts from Blogger to The Winnower, should you be so inclined. Why do it? DOI is one reason.

Those of you who were smart enough to begin your blog's existence on Wordpress can use a fancy plugin for your API. Those of us who now have too much inertia on Blogger to relocate must do a little more work and use some intermediate steps, but it really isn't that hard. What's more, the intermediate steps offer an opportunity for proofreading and fine-tuning that you might like to do anyway. Let's do it!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Another way to find posts: The Winnower

Open access online science publisher The Winnower has made a huge leap in scientific publishing and now offers bloggers a way to assign a digital object identifier (DOI) to any post uploaded to their site. Once there, the post can be reviewed, etc. just like any other online paper. They will also be archiving soon via CLOCKSS. (See Note 1.) With a DOI plus archiving it means that a post (and any reviews) should be traceable in perpetuity. Very good developments!

I had the privilege of helping Josh, The Winnower's industrious founder and administrator, create a new publication category for Neuroimaging and then used my post on physiologic confounds as the first test case. The post now has its own DOI (DOI: 10.15200/winn.142919.97862 ) should you prefer that to a URL. I submitted via a Word document because I've found that Blogger will occasionally hide irrelevant HTML code that needs to be edited out by hand. This can be a problem if you're in the habit, as I am, of copy-pasting text (e.g. quotes from papers) into a blog post. There is a new facility that will submit directly from a blog but in my first test (using Blogger) there were some major formatting issues. Josh informs me that he will be adding a facility for the Blogger API eventually, but using Word as an intermediate step gives me a chance to clean up links to references and that sort of thing. I have plans to submit many other posts to The Winnower so please let me know either in the comments below, in a review on the The Winnower version of the post or via Twitter whether you encounter problems, have suggestions for improvements, etc. Also, do please consider submitting your own blog posts to The Winnower. Let's build the Neuroimaging category!

I was around for and involved in the nascent Web of the early '90s (see Note 2) and I distinctly remember NCSA's Mosaic, the Planet Earth Home Page virtual library, UC Irvine's online bookshop, and the Cambridge coffee pot. But the development of open, online publishing supported by social media like blogs and Twitter, as well as post-publication peer review (PubPeer and PubMed Commons), feels like a true revolution for science. I may be wrong but it feels like we will look back at the current period as a major change in the way we interact. It only took us two decades. Now, however, The Winnower is contributing disproportionately to our future. Thank you.



1.  I already archive my important blog posts at The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. In addition to providing an invaluable service, the Wayback Machine is also a wonderful way to get nostalgic and kill a few hours :-/

2.  I had an online poster at NMR Poster95, the first e-poster meeting of folks doing NMR and MRI. The front page of the poster got archived but the clickable poster itself is now defunct, I'm afraid. The wonderful Internet Archive does have other pages from my website at the time, however. They began archiving in 1996, and the earliest copy of my old website dates from January, 1997. Thank you, Internet Archive! There is also a summary of the first two NMR e-poster conferences in this paper from 1997.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Potential of ultralow field T1 and high field T1ρ in evaluating brain trauma

Crazy Scientist sent me a link to a paper, "Neuroimaging after mild traumatic brain injury: Review and meta-analysis," (doi:10.1016/j.nicl.2013.12.009) and it prompted me to do something with a brief review I wrote this time last year as a way to plan some research activities on MRI of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). By a remarkable coincidence the review paper was made available online four whole days before I completed my own review. I've yet to read the published review so I can't yet tell if I wasted my time. In any event, the document I wrote was for internal consumption (for my collaborators, and to clarify my own thoughts) and was never designed to become a public document. But since our research direction changed mid-year I figured I might as well stick my review out there in case anyone can make use of it.

The title of my document is the same as the title of this post. You will find the contents pasted below, or if you prefer you can download a PDF from this Dropbox link. I have quickly re-read it to check for major bloopers, and I've added a couple of update notes highlighted in yellow. There may well be some direct copy-paste of parts of a few of the papers I reviewed, especially those with heavy neuroradiology content where I am generally a long way out of my depth and would prefer to accept charges of plagiarism than get the medical terminology wrong!

For the record, we are still interested in mTBI but the logistics of studying acute brain injury in a non-hospital setting, using a home-made machine (the ULFMRI) sitting in a second basement lab in a physics department, made it all too hard to pursue right now. We have shifted instead to studying chronic conditions where we have a fighting chance of getting a few people scanned in our unorthodox facilities.