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In this axial reconstruction, the MRI sees ever-deeper layers of the brain, from top to bottom and back up again.

Scientists are very careful about claiming that no one else has ever done something before — the last thing they need is some overlooked lab saying, um, right here! — but researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital are confident they’re on solid ground. Their high-resolution MRIs of a complete, intact human brain, they say, are “unprecedented.”

Other labs have sliced up brains and seen features down to 80 or even 50 microns. (One micron is a 10,000th of a centimeter, and 75 of them is about the width of a human hair.) The MGH team got 100-micron resolution in a whole brain, producing the most detailed three-dimensional images of an intact brain ever seen.

Super high res brain
Detailed anatomy of brainstem structures, including (at far right) the inferior olivary nucleus, which coordinates movement.

The scientists started with an MRI machine with a 7-tesla magnet, a significantly stronger magnetic field than the 0.5-to-3 teslas of most MRIs in clinical use, which optimized the signal-to-noise ratio. But they also built custom state-of-the-art software that, depending which physics parameters it directs the MRI to optimize, reveals particular features of the tissue, from tiny bleeds to swelling to white and gray matter.


In this video of a coronal view, the MRI reconstructs brain layers from the forehead to the back of the head.

It didn’t hurt that the brain — from a 58-year-old woman who bequeathed it to science before her death from viral pneumonia three years ago — could stay in the MRI for 100 hours and was perfectly immobile.

Super high res brain
Detailed anatomy of the basal ganglia and midbrain (center) and cerebellum (left).

The researchers, led by MGH’s Dr. Brian Edlow, described their work in a paper submitted to a journal, and while they await publication, they have shared the images, which were taken at four different angles.

In this video showing sagittal views of the brain, the MRI captures layers from the left side to the right.
  • This better be without Gadolinium. ..As I have high levels of this toxic metal in my body now. If this is without, please God make this the standard to spare massive pain inflicted on those who are already suffering.

  • It just keeps getting better and better……medicine…help for so many people who now can get the help needed… least a start with this MRI…..what I’ve seen in my 90 years is astonishing…just gets better and better.

  • Holy wow! This is a stupendous machine! I have RRMS and the strongest MRI that I’ve been in is a Tesla 4. This T7 would benefit so many folks with neuro-degenrative disease & brain traumas; both for diagnostic and monitoring. Fantastic news!

  • This was very intreging to take on board with my own brain after having 3 brain surgeries followed by a stroke on ward due to brain glioma returning back around the memory area which through my brain recovery I’m mentally learning how to ajust to mental health problems and how the brain can change when deeper in the brain has been disturbed near the chasiam which are the eyes and how we process things is how the brain reacts via mental mind and focus

  • I have ataxia and have been to 7 neurologists with MRI’s but unable to come up with a diagnosis.
    How do I have myself under this machine so the mystery of my ailment is brought to light?

  • Would using this 7 Tesla magnet obviate the need for “Gad” or Gadolinium dye which is now suspected to be deposited permanently thereby inviting some lawsuit like that from Chuck Norris’ wife ?
    Is the more side effects with stronger magnets ?

    • I thought bigger was better so I chose to go to a national clinic they had the best MRI machine. My latest MRI was done on a very old machine that’s used all day long for cattle lineup. I am skeptical of the results of my brain MRI because of this. I don’t know . I’ve got some research to do on this now, is more better?

    • Magnetic field strength is only one of many variables in this, and many things interact with one another. 7 Tesla isn’t necessarily better than 3T, depending upon what one is trying to do. You can get better signal to noise, but the higher frequency required opens a huge can of worms which can easily render the signal to noise improvements null.

      At 100 micron resolution, a whole boat load of sequences are needed, thus it took 100 hours on a fixed cadaver brain. While potential spinoffs of the technology may eventually make it into clinical practice, its still using FLASH which came about in 1985. The biggest deal from this study is likely to be the basic science contribution of the actual dataset… albeit the software has to be really impressive.

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