A team of engineers from three U.S. universities plans to map the mechanical properties of white matter in the human brain to get a powerful new look at development, aging and the progress of diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease.

Philip Bayly, the Lilyan & E. Lisle Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science in the McKelvey School of engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, joins Curtis L. Johnson of the University of Delaware and Keith D. Paulsen of Dartmouth University to make quantitative measurements of the brain's white matter tracts using a new approach, termed anisotropic magnetic resonance elastography (aMRE). This approach will produce accurate and robust maps of white matter mechanical properties, such as stiffness under loading in different directions, the researchers said.

With a three-year, $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the team plans to develop the aMRE imaging technique and gather data from simulations, in a preclinical model and in human patients. They also plan to share the technique with other researchers and clinicians seeking accurate methods to quantitatively measure the properties and behavior of brain white matter.

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