In an effort to help other physicians diagnose and treat complex neurological cancers and disorders, radiology researchers at Johns Hopkins have taken collective diagnostic registries to the next level with the development of a library of children’s brain images. The image databank, reportedly being used today by doctors at Johns Hopkins, currently houses 7,000 brain images of Hopkins patients, and should be publicly available in three years, according to Thierry Huisman, MD, a professor of radiology, neurology and pediatrics and the director of pediatric radiology and neuroradiology at the Hopkins Children's Center, via an announcement from Johns Hopkins.
With the technology behind magnetic-resonance imaging, used to visualize soft tissue and blood flow in the brain, significant advances have been made in diagnosing orphan diseases such as brain tumors, seen frequently in pediatric patients. According to the CDC, pediatric brain and central-nervous system cancers ranked second in terms of most frequent diagnoses in children between the ages of 1 and 4, and had the highest mortality rate in children between 5- and 9-years-old.
Registry organizations such as the Central Brain Tumor Registry of the United States were formed to collect epidemiological information on disease incidence and prevalence, but can provide no way of helping physicians visualize the correlating abnormalities in the brain. The significance of the image database created by Johns Hopkins is that it will give doctors around the world access to a free Google-like search engine so that any radiologist would be able to tap the expertise of the Hopkins specialists who have been expanding the databank, and compare his or her patient’s images to images found in the image library. The databank was created so that details of each patient's medical condition are included, but names and other personal information are stripped out.
Huisman added that in addition to helping with diagnosis, the databank could help detect new diseases or better classify them. It could also shorten the time that even experienced doctors need to pinpoint rarely seen disorders. The researchers have begun building a similar library of MRI images that focuses on brain disorders commonly found in elderly patients. Hopkins neurology professor Marilyn Albert, PhD, is working on that project, which is associated with the National Institute of Aging's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.