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FMRI has long been a useful research tool, providing indirect indications of relative change in brain activity when the subject is presented with different stimuli. It has rarely been used in diagnostics as it does not produce numerical data. Currently, positron emission tomography (PET) scans are used to provide quantitative measurements of blood flow and volume in the brain for use in diagnosis. However, PET is expensive, has poor spatial resolution and exposes the patient to ionising radiation.

New fmri technique produces quantitative measurement of cerebral physiology
Cerebral Metabolic Rate of Oxygen Consumption CMRO2 data taken from Bulte et al., 2012

A new approach to FMRI, published by Daniel Bulte and colleagues from FMRIB in NeuroImage, proposes to measure absolute values of brain physiology parameters. By giving patients in the MRI machine air and varying the proportion of carbon dioxide and oxygen in that air, it is possible to measure blood flow, blood volume, oxygen use and brain metabolism across the whole brain. The results produced are similar to those obtained using PET, but with none of the disadvantages mentioned above.

For the full paper in Neuroimage please click here.