Chiropractic + Naturopathic Doctor

Expert cites potential of medical images for scientific research

By By Helen Branswell The Canadian Press   

Features Research

xrayA Canadian expert is suggesting scientists are missing a chance to see the big picture when it comes to medical images.

Dr. Alan Moody says X-rays, MRIs and CT-scans could provide a treasure trove of information if they were systematically studied.

But currently, medical image are used simply to diagnose or rule out a
problem for an individual, then gather dust in the patient's file.


says if databases of images were amassed, they could be studied in the
way researchers currently mine anonymized patient records for clues to
drug efficacy or side-effects and other medical questions.

He says part of the beauty of such a system would be the images have already been paid for, so this would be low-cost research.

who is chairman of the department of medical imaging at the University
of Toronto, is making the argument in a commentary published in the
journal Nature.

Medicine has long stored preserved tissue samples
taken from biopsies for study. Medical images could be used in the same
manner, Moody said in an interview.

"Akin to pathology specimens
which are sitting there, this is even richer data in a sense. We have
whole body scans, we have brain scans, we have fundamental whole organ
information," Moody says.

"The power of that comes when you put a
lot of that data all in one space and then analyze that data, which is
this 'Big data, big picture' idea."

One example of how images
could be used in this way relates to the study of dementia. If
researchers could look at brain scans of individuals who have
experienced early symptoms of what might be Alzheimer's disease and are
being followed, the scientists might be able to identify what an early
Alzheimer's brain looks like.

"Often we see snapshots of
individuals coming with a plethora of different signs which in that
small snapshot cannot be put together to give you any larger
information. But if you imagine instead of that one patient… in
Toronto alone we'd probably have a thousand of these patients a year,"
Moody says.

"You would then have this large data bank of brain scans that would then start giving you the bigger picture."

says a system would need to be developed whereby images could be shared
in a way that didn't jeopardize individual patient privacy. But these
kinds of systems are already in place for the study of other types of

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