The average Indian brain is smaller in height, width, and volume as compared to the western and eastern population like the Chinese and Korean according to the first-ever ‘Indian Brain Atlas’ created by researchers of the International Institute of Information Technology-Hyderabad (IIITH).
These differences are found even at the structure level like the volume of hippocampus and so on. But overall, the ‘IBA 100 is more’ comparable to the Chinese and Korean atlases than the distant Caucasian one, according to the research team led by professor from the Centre for Visual Information Technology Jayanthi Sivaswamy.
Construction of the Indian human brain atlas was done in collaboration with the Department of Imaging Sciences and Interventional Radiology, Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram.
Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) and International Consortium for Brain Mapping (ICBM) had created the first digital human brain atlas in 1993 and had also released other brain atlases, widely used as a standard in neuroscience studies. However, these ‘standard’ brain templates were created using Caucasian brains and are not ideal to analyse brain differences from other ethnicities such as the Indian population.
No Indian template
“We know medical images play a big role in diagnosis and the idea of building our own Indian brain atlas came from a neuro-radiologist at the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute. He was remarking that it is the MNI template that comes typically loaded in the MRI scanning machines, leaving us bereft of normative information,” explained Ms. Sivaswamy.
MRI images of the patients are compared with the pre-loaded MNI template to arrive at a diagnosis, and these are likely to lead to an incorrect diagnosis, she pointed out. While even Chinese and Korean brain templates had been constructed, there was no corresponding template constructed for the Indian-specific population.
IIITH team made a maiden effort at creating an Indian-specific brain atlas involving 50 subjects selected across genders. MRI scans of these subjects’ brains were taken at three different hospitals across three different scanners to rule out variations found in scanning machines. After a successful pilot study, the team recruited 100 willing participants in construction of Indian Brain Atlas or ‘IBA 100’.
Scans collected were from an equal number of healthy male and female subjects 21-30 years age group when the brain is said to be ‘mature’. The constructed altas was validated against the other atlases available for various populations.
Ms. Sivaswamy said that it was desirable to build a larger atlas with a greater heterogeneous mix of subjects to account for diversity, even in terms of educational qualifications. But currently the team’s focus is to understand the ageing process itself.
“There are many changes that take place in a brain due to advancing age, with the most typical one being atrophy which means shrinking of structures as it happens in the case of dementia or Alzheimer’s,” she said. Her research student, Alphin Thottupattu is collecting MRI scans to create brain atlases for different age groups, like 20-30, 30-40, 40-50 and 50-60 and to track the brain and see how it ages over time.
“With number of aged persons increasing, there are are more incidences of Alzheimers and Dementia. It is important to understand structurally what is normal too, so we can catch such conditions early on,” she added.