Time to get the picture – how brain scans are informative, reasonable and provide actionable insights.
When I was offered the chance of a brain scan to check in my brain health and identify any markers for cognitive impairment, I jumped at the chance. My father died of Alzheimer’s and my mother has advanced dementia, but previously, the thought of having to arrange my own brain scan filled me with concerns – both logistical and financial. Where would I go to get one and how much would it cost? Multiple $000s was my expectation.
However, not so. Googling brain scan I found prices start at as little at $240. and, as it turns out, BrainKey has a network of scanning partners that were happy to help; a key benefit of this is that they are all set up to export in the correct file formats, and they arrange all the file transfers to BrainKey. BrainKey further works with the providers to acquire the best possible 3D images using the expertise they developed at Stanford University.
BrainKey in a glance
|GO LONG||GO SHORT|
|Free interactive demo dashboard, access to exploring brain regions and tracking changes in brain structure||Would be nice to have a mobile app for better accessibility and future tracking|
|Affordable than brain scan counterparts|
|Effortless to upload test results for interpretation|
I was lucky enough to bag a scan on London’s exclusive Harley Street (a world-famous destination for private healthcare, with a medical history stretching back to the 1800s). The scan involved the usual MRI equipment and a brace to ensure that I didn’t move – I’m fine with MRIs but I know some people (understandably!) have problems going inside a tight, noisy tube!
The process of the scan itself was very efficient, and within a day I received an email from BrainKey with my results – I had to pre-register before my scan and complete the usual screening and health/lifestyle questions. My results were encouraging: my brain is slightly larger than average (a good thing apparently) and most of my markers were average or above average.220914-BrainKey-Report_compressed
In more detail, my report showed:
- That my brain scan looks good – I’m the proud owner of a healthy brain, with no tumours or abnormalities!
- My brain has plenty of white matter connections – it’s good to have a lots of these show up in a scan. They’re like cables connecting different areas of your brain.
- I have a bigger brain than most men my age.
- My brain does not manifest shrinkage or shriveling like that which is seen in patients with Alzheimer’s. Cortical thickness can be used as a gauge for dementia and atrophy in the hippocampus can be consistent with Alzheimer’s and demenia.
- My computed BrainAge of 52 years is lower than my chronological age of 55.
- Testing should be repeated every few years.
I also found out that exercise and diet link to hippocampal volume – this is a good indication that changes can be effected through lifestyle alterations.
The part of my brain that illustrates a lack of empathy, I found amusing and actually (hmm) quite accurate! Despite being a Buddhist and an all-round ‘nice guy’ (I like to think), if I were to dig deeper, perhaps there is a drive underneath my persona that is very driven and focused – perhaps to the detriment of my family and coworkers.
Overall I was pleased to see that my my white matter indicates good brain health and protection from cognition issues – but I do feel that some of the detail isn’t fully there in the BrainKey report – although I’m super-glad to have the confidence the results gave me.
BrainKey’s CEO, Owen Phillips, PhD, assures me that more cutting-edge features are on the way and as they get rolled out, my personal brain dashboard will automatically update with the new results. My inner geek finds this particularly exciting because new neuroscience research is emerging all the time and I love the idea that my report is dynamic, with BrainKey keeping it up-to-date with new emerging insights, and of course, this means I will be kept up-to-date with what these mean for my brain health.
For example, BrainKey recently rolled out a more detailed analysis of my white matter, specifically looking at white matter hyperintensities. Although white matter hyperintensity sounds like a progressive rock band from the 70s, these intensities are actually lesions in the brain that show up as areas of increased brightness on an MRI scan. These hyperintensities accumulate with age and have been shown to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular problems, but fortunately, it transpires I have a very low portion of these in my analysis.
I’m also excited by their inclusion of genetic data in their report, which is particularly promising because genes have been shown to play a role in brain aging and by incorporating genetic information with imaging, BrainKey is able to provide a picture of both the predisposition and what is the actual current state of the brain. This means that they will have greater power to forecast how the brain will change into the future – and, in the case of serious disease, to help differentiate and help to provide guidance on treatment.
Overall, my takeaway is that BrainKey has built something new, and something which gives greater insight into brain health than was ever possible before. Moreover, the insights will only grow with time as BrainKey expands, so I’m thrilled that I was able to get in early, so I can track my brain health into the future.
The challenge that many diagnostic companies like BrainKey experience is that they need to qualify as a medical device in order to provide detailed medical-grade guidance. However, this is a diversion, as BrainKey is a B2B2C company, which means they sell their product to professional organisations that are qualified to interpret their patients results and provide the appropriate medical guidance.
The overall experience was really slick, and, as an additional favour, BrainKey’s CEO arranged to have a life size 3D printout of my brain produced for me.
What is an MRI?
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a medical imaging technique that uses a magnetic field and computer-generated radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues in your body .
Most MRI machines are large, tube-shaped magnets. When you lie inside an MRI machine, the magnetic field temporarily realigns water molecules in your body. Radio waves cause these aligned atoms to produce faint signals, which are used to create cross-sectional MRI images, like slices in a loaf of bread.
The MRI machine can also produce 3D images that can be viewed from different angles
MRI is a noninvasive way for your doctor to examine your organs, tissues and skeletal system. It produces high-resolution images of the inside of the body that help diagnose a variety of problems.
How does BrainKey work?
BrainKey turns brain scans into easy-to-understand and actionable insights. You can upload existing MRI scans, request medical records from previous scans or schedule a BrainKey scan .
BrainKey uses advanced artificial intelligence, trained using tens of thousands of hand-corrected MRI brain scans and terabytes of data to automatically analyse brain scans accurately at scale. The clever platform allows you to explore over 25 of your brain regions in 3D, track and compare your brain over time and maximise your brain longevity through personalised, actionable recommendations and insights
The top three brain regions that contribute to a younger BrainAge are: Cerebellar gray matter, Brainstem and White matter.
With your scan, the BrainAge Summary Score measures how young or old your brain is in comparison with other people your age and gender. Based on a statistical analysis of your brain regions, BrainKey calculates your score (at the time your scan was done) .
MRI and Alzheimer’s detection
In patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), MRI may reveal brain abnormalities that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease. It is possible for an MRI scan of the brain to be normal early on in Alzheimer’s disease. As the disease progresses, MRIs may reveal a decrease in specific brain areas (mainly the temporal and parietal lobes).
A study found that MRI-based machine learning could accurately predict Alzheimer’s disease in 98 percent of cases. It also distinguished between early and late-stage Alzheimer’s with fairly high accuracy, in 79 percent of cases .
Other advantages of understanding your brain scans
Intensive instruction in reading improves how a child’s brain works. In schizophrenia, key parts of the brain may not communicate well, making it hard to organise one’s thoughts. And true love wouldn’t be true without the neurotransmitter dopamine. We know all this and more thanks to neuroimaging, an increasingly sophisticated tool that sheds light – literally – on the human brain.
Doctors and scientists once had to wait until autopsy to examine the brain, and psychologists had to deduce from behavior where the brain was injured. Now they can study detailed three-dimensional images of the brain to spot problems, to understand what happens during tasks, thoughts, and emotions, and to assess the effectiveness of various treatments .
Current neuroimaging techniques reveal both form and function. They reveal the brain’s anatomy, including the integrity of brain structures and their interconnections. They elucidate its chemistry, physiology, and electrical and metabolic activity. The newest tools show how different regions of the brain connect and communicate. They can even show with split-second timing the sequence of events during a specific process, such as reading or remembering.
Psychologists employ these tools across the range of the discipline. Social cognitive neuroscientists, for instance, are capturing the psychological and neural processes involved in emotion, pain, self-regulation, self-perception, and perception of others. Psychologists have used neuroimaging technology to demonstrate how White Americans, even those who report themselves free of prejudice, show differences in brain activity in the amygdala – a structure involved in emotional learning – when they look at pictures representing people of different racial groups. Positive emotions are also studied.
Psychologists have compared functional images taken when students looked at pictures of their romantic partner versus pictures of an acquaintance. When students gazed at their beloved, two deep-brain areas that communicate as part of a circuit showed increased levels of activity. Those areas help to regulate the neurotransmitter dopamine, which floods the brain when people anticipate a reward.
Neuroimaging is also helping us understand how the brain develops from infancy through adulthood. Developmental neuroscientists study the neurobiological underpinnings of cognitive development. Combining functional measures of brain activity with behavioral measures, they explore how subtle early insults to the nervous system affect cognitive and emotional function later in life – for example, the effects of maternal illness or early childhood neglect on learning, memory, and attention later in life. Imaging tools can pay off in the classroom, too: Using such tools, literacy experts have shown that a year of intensive, methodical reading instruction makes the brains of high-risk kindergärtners look and function like those of more skilled young readers.
To aid clinical treatments, psychologists are using functional imaging to get at the neural mechanisms involved in such difficult problems as post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and panic disorder. For example, scans reveal that schizophrenia’s diverse symptoms may result not from faults in single neural components but rather from differences in webs of neural connections. Scans similarly help researchers follow brain activity to assess whether various treatments change the underlying brain dysfunction.
Whenever possible, prevention is better than cure. Be proactive about your health and learn what you can do to prevent future ailments.
Curious about your brain health? Head on over to BrainKey.