Tuesday Bits and Bytes: East Meets West With fMRI of Acupuncture

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imageA study out of Essen, Germany presented today at RSNA pits traditional Eastern medicine against Western evaluation, using functional MRI to evaluate the effectiveness of acupuncture. When 18 patients underwent fMRI with an electric pain stimulus but without acupuncture, the modality revealed significant activation in the areas of the brain that process pain; however, when the same procedure was performed with acupuncture, these areas of the brain were significantly less active. “Until now, the role of acupuncture has been controversial,” said lead researcher Nina Theysohn, MD, of the radiology department at Essen’s University Hospital. “Our findings support that both these nonspecific and specific mechanisms exist, suggesting that acupuncture can help relieve pain.”

In other research news, a study of patients with obstructive sleep apnea indicates that those suffering from the condition have more non-calcified plaque in their coronary arteries, putting them at increased risk for developing aggressive heart disease. Researchers used coronary CTA to evaluate the composition of vessel plaque in 49 patients with OSA and 46 without. “Coronary CT angiography is an effective way to noninvasively diagnose non-calcified and mixed plaque,” concluded lead author U. Joseph Schoepf, director of cardiovascular imaging at the Medical University of South Carolina. “With technological advancements that are loweing the radiation dose required for cCTA, this exam could become a screening tool for obese individuals at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.”

Speaking of cCTA, another study presented today utilized the technology to screen both African Americans and Caucasians for non-calcified plaque. Researchers discovered that African Americans were more likely to have non-calcified plaque, possibly explaining why the population experiences an increased risk for heart attacks compared with Caucasians. “For African Americans, coronary CT angiography may be a more appropriate tool for cardiovascular risk,” noted study author John Nance, Jr, MD of Medical University of South Carolina.

Finally, a study utilizing MR spectroscopy to evaluate women’s abdominal and total fat as well as their bone marrow fat and bone mineral density indicates that having a lot of “belly fat” is detrimental to bone health. Researchers saw no correlation between bone health and subcutaneous fat or total fat – only abdominal fat created an issue. “It is important for the public to be aware that excess belly fat is a risk factor for bone loss, as well as heart disease and diabetes,” said lead author and MGH radiologist Miriam A. Bredella, MD.