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How to prepare for a neuroimaging study

Posted on: May 28th, 2015 in Behavioral Health, Mental Health No Comments


For people with mental illness or drug addiction, participating in the occasional brain imaging study can be an excellent way to earn a little extra pocket money. Brain imaging studies normally contain minimal risk and involve sitting in an MRI machine while performing simple cognitive tasks. Participants in neuroimaging studies can be paid anywhere from twenty dollars to several hundred dollars, depending on the length or complexity of the study. Engaging in a neuroimaging study also offers participants the opportunity to advance neuroscience research.

What is fMRI?

Functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, is the most commonly administered brain imaging technique. News articles that talk about fMRI often talk about brain regions “lighting up,” depending on which activity is being performed. These so-called “lights” actually represent the level of deoxygenated blood in that area of the brain. As blood passes through the lungs, it binds with oxygen and then gradually distributes that oxygen to the organs that need it the most. After the blood releases its oxygen, it becomes deoxygenated. Areas in the brain that are working hard need oxygen and so the blood in that region is deoxygenated, whereas parts of the brain that are not very active don’t bother to take the oxygen from the blood.

The signal measured by fMRI is known as the BOLD signal, or Blood Oxygen Level Dependent signal.

Generally, receiving an fMRI is not dangerous. No long-term effects are associated with receiving an fMRI scan. However study participants should talk with a medical professional beforehand to assess any areas of concern such as claustrophobia.

If a person experiences a medical emergency within the scanner or otherwise wishes to stop, he or she can press a button to immediately alert the technicians.

What happens during a typical session?

Upon arrival, participants will be briefed on the experiment and asked to sign a consent form. They might then perform some preliminary tests with the researcher.

Prior to the brain scan, participants meet with the MRI technician to make sure that they do not have any conditions that will make the scan dangerous or unpleasant, such as claustrophobia or metal implants. Women might be asked to perform a pregnancy test. All participants will be asked to remove all metal from their body and may be provided with a gown.

Once participants have been cleared for entry, they will be instructed to lie down on a platform just outside the scanner. They will be fitted with ear plugs, a pillow and a blanket and wheeled into the scanner. Because the scanner is very sensitive, participants are instructed to stay as still as possible during the test.

Before beginning the task, the researchers and technicians will collect structural images of the brain. During structural acquisition, the participant only needs to stay still and wait for the experiment to begin. Typical fMRI experiments involve pressing a series of buttons in response to a computer screen that has been projected inside the scanner. Some tasks might also use instruments to measure respiration or heart rate. The researchers will keep in touch with the participants throughout the task to let them know what is happening.

After participants have been removed from the scanner, they can continue their day normally. Brain scans cause no residual side effects and can be performed multiple times per day with no ill effects. Some fMRI experiments only involve one scan, whereas others require the participant to come back multiple times.

How do I participate in a neuroimaging study?

Imaging studies are typically advertised at universities and hospitals. Pamphlets are often available at these locations describing studies in need of participants and how to get in touch with the researchers.

What are the benefits?

Participating in a brain imaging study requires no more effort than participating in a behavioral study and pays significantly more.  The research tasks can be fun, not unlike a series of puzzles.

Neuroimaging studies ultimately build understanding for the human brain, mental illness and drug addiction. Participating in these studies can pave the way toward future treatment options or even cures.

Sovereign Health Group prides itself on following current neuroscience research in an effort to better understand mental illness and drug or alcohol addiction and provide effective treatment programs for those that need them. For further information, please contact 866-754-3385.

Written by Courtney Lopresti, Sovereign Health Group writer

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