Using a powerful new imaging technique, doctors can now see the inner workings of your brain like never before. High Definition Fiber Tracking (HDFT) creates a colorful three-dimensional image of the brain’s connections, showing how millions of nerve fibers communicate with each other.
HDFT makes more than a pretty picture. Pioneered at the University of Pittsburgh, this imaging technique can help doctors diagnose and treat patients with complex lesions (meaning tumors, injuries, or damaged blood vessels) located inside or next to extremely important brain areas. HDFT provides critical information so doctors can plan complex surgeries more safely.
Hemorrhages and High-Risk Surgery: Heather’s Story
During her senior year of college, Heather Abramovic woke up in the middle of the night feeling pins and needles down the left side of her body. She was rushed to the emergency room, where doctors discovered bleeding near the base of her skull.
The bleeding, caused by a group of weak blood vessels called a cerebral cavernous malformation, didn’t cause any lasting problems at first, so her doctors decided to just monitor her condition instead of perform surgery. Heather was young, and the damaged blood vessels were located too near critical areas of her brain to be removed safely.
Unfortunately, Heather’s bleeding continued. She had four more hemorrhages, and the last one was so severe it nearly paralyzed her left side. Another bleed could cause permanent damage or even death. Despite the risks, surgery had become her only option.
How High Definition Fiber Tracking Helps Brain Surgeons
Heather came to Dr. Robert Friedlander, Chairman of the UPMC Department of Neurosurgery, who uses this technology to help plan surgery in hard-to-reach parts of the brain. Using images from MRI and HDFT scans, Dr. Friedlander could reach and remove Heather’s lesions while avoiding important bundles of nerves.
Heather’s case is just one example of how High Definition Fiber Tracking can help reduce complications and save lives. For example, doctors can also use HDFT for people with brain tumors and traumatic brain injuries. The scans show where damage has occurred and pinpoint what abilities or functions may suffer. Medical researchers have already identified 40 major fiber tracts (bundles of nerves) and continue to map out more.
After her surgery, Heather is recovering well. She goes to physical therapy regularly to strengthen her left side, and she and her doctors hope for a full recovery.
Dr. Friedlander says, “I remember when I saw my first MRI of the brain. I knew that it was going to be a big change in the way that we’re able to diagnose and treat patients. This, to me, is the next big step. High Definition Fiber Tracking allows us to know what the problems are with the connections within the brain.”
Watch Heather Abramovic and Dr. Friedlander talk about her surgery in the video below.
To learn more about the latest developments in the field or to find answers to your questions about issues related to the brain and nervous system, visit the UPMC Department of Neurosurgery website or call 1-877-986-9862 to make an appointment.
UPMC is ranked among the top hospitals in the nation for neurosurgical care by U.S. News & World Report. In addition, UPMC is one of the few medical centers in the U.S. – and throughout the world – with expertise in the full array of surgical options for brain and spine conditions. Our world-renowned experts are committed to finding the best treatment approach for each patient, maximizing the benefits of surgery while minimizing the risks.