Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may develop after an individual is exposed to a trauma or event in which the person felt threatened that they may experience injury or death. Diagnosing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was previously difficult in some cases to diagnose objectively.  There is a new tool however, that is now helping clinicians to actually view processes in the brain which are changed when a person experiences PTSD. It is called Magnetoencephalography or (MEG).


Magnetoencephalography (MEG) a tool that can help diagnose PTSD

Magnetoencephalography Magnetoencephalography (MEG) proves to be one of the most exciting non-invasive brain imaging technologies recently developed and is going to become an increasingly important player in mankind’s quest to understand human brain functions, psychology and neuroscience.

Whereas CT scans and MRIs record brain signals every few seconds, MEGs can do it by the millisecond, catching biomarkers and brain activity that the other tests inevitably miss. MEG machines are a fast, sensitive and provide an accurate way to measure electrical activity in the brain. MEG records brain activity essentially in real time—down to a thousandth of a second. That’s how fast brain cells talk with each other. Other types of scans involve lags of three seconds or longer. In trying to understand brain function that time difference is critical.

The MEG machine itself resembles a giant, space-age salon hair dryer with hundreds of sensors that pick up miniscule magnetic signals that result when brain cells “talk” to each other through electrical impulses, allowing for a powerful non invasive research method. MEG is being used to study a number of neurological disorders such as epilepsy and stroke, neuropsychological disorders, autism, as well as psychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, dementia, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

It is estimated that about 300,000 U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. A study by the RAND Corp. also estimated that another 320,000 troops have sustained a possible traumatic brain injury during deployment. But researchers could not say how many of those cases were serious or required treatment. Billed as the first large-scale nongovernmental survey of its kind, the study also found that stress disorder and depression afflict 18.5 percent of the more than 1.5 million U.S. forces who have deployed to the two war zones.

PPTSD, has been labeled a "soft disorder" with no proven objective biological path to diagnose until a research team under the guidance of Apostolos P. Georgopoulos, MD, PhD, director of the Brain Sciences Center at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and professor of neuroscience, neurology and psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, found a distinct pattern of brain activity among PTSD sufferers, by employing MEG (MagnetoEncephaloGrapy) brain imaging technology measuring how the brain processes information.

The research team of Apostolos P. Georgopoulos, MD, PhD scanned the brains of U.S. veterans with PTSD, and compared the results with civilians without the disorder, and discovered that by spotting specific brain biomarkers, managed to accurately diagnose PTSD sufferers with 90 percent accuracy.

Researchers at the Minneapolis VA also found that a brain imaging technology with magnetoencephalograpy, or MEG, could proof to be a fast, accurate, non-invasive way to diagnose mental-health and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis. "The test takes only three minutes, and it’s totally non-invasive," said Apostolos P. Georgopoulos, MD, PhD, director of the Brain Sciences Center at the Minneapolis VA and professor of neuroscience, neurology and psychiatry at the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos foresees a great demand for MEG as a screening and diagnostic tool, lending itself particularly well for application in cases that involve subtle progressions of a brain disease over time.

Take for example the tracking of the brain-cell impulse patterns of patients with signs of memory loss. Since some people with mild cognitive impairment will develop Alzheimer’s, and others will not, the outcome of a particular MEG analysis can be a continuum. “Say you have an older person who tends to forget, and you get a reading of .2 Alzheimer’s and .8 normal. After six months or a year, that reading could change and you would have a good objective measure of whether the person is progressing toward Alzheimer’s or is remaining stable” Dr. Apostolos Georgopoulos says.

MEG began as a single-channel system in the 1970s and has as an ever-evolving technology been updated and refined into its current state-of-the-art status. The MEG scanner at the Brain Sciences Center is one of the few of its caliber in existence. Its 248 SQUID sensors make this imaging machine one of the most powerful and technologically advanced in the world.

MEG is also utilized as an important analytical tool for pre-surgical planning in neurosurgery, since the machine is capable of localizing epileptic discharges in the brains of patients with seizures and also pinpoints major functional centers in the brain that control movement, sensation, hearing, vision, and language all important factor for the practicing neurosurgeon.