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Incidental Findings in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Brain Research

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2021


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a noninvasive imaging tool that utilizes a strong magnetic field and radio frequency waves to visualize in great detail organs, soft tissue, and bone. Unlike conventional x-rays (including computed tomography [CT]), there is no exposure to ionizing radiation and at most field strengths (generally below 7 Tesla) the procedure is considered safe for nearly every age group. Because it is non-invasive (i.e., does not break the skin or harm the body) and possesses excellent spatial resolution (down to millimeters), the use of MRI as a research tool has increased exponentially over the past decade. Uses have ranged from add-ons to a clinical study (e.g., after scanning a child who has fallen from a bicycle, the radiologist might do an extra sequence to explore ways of obtaining higher resolution images) to studies of brain development in typically developing children. In addition, a major effort has been made in recent years to use MRI to study brain function (so-called “functional MRI” [fMRI]). Because the clinical utility of fMRI has not yet been realized, fMRI is still considered highly exploratory, and we cannot yet identify incidental findings of a functional (as opposed to structural) nature.

Copyright © American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics 2008

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