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Nonfiction 12

By Charters Samuel

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In the first two years of life connections in the brain can develop at the considerable rate of 2 million per second, and the connections that have become useless are expelled. This natural, pitiless “cleaning” operation in which the neurons that aren’t used (aren’t connected) are eliminated by “sweeping” cells (microglia) must be done so that our brain functions normally. Neurons absolutely need a social life—Â�to be connected—Â�to live. But beyond this operation, we are the ones, through our genetic history and our environment, who ultimately decide the fate of our neurons: which ones we’ll keep, which ones we’ll eliminate, or, conversely, how we will connect them.

Computer scientists and mathematicians, specialists in image processing, perform miracles here. Whereas much of the previous chapter was dedicated to physicists, this chapter belongs to these other specialists. With the x-Â�ray CT scanner the radiologist had learned to “read” cerebral anatomy in sections, mentally reconstituting the anatomical structures, either normal or pathological, in space. This was even more difficult in the time of radiography because it was necessary to reconstruct the anatomy using only the projection of shadows of the organs on radiographic film.

Now, it seemed at that time that the magnetization of cancerous tissue returned more slowly to a state of equilibrium than did normal tissue, having 19 one a longer T1 than that of healthy tissue. Roughly, the time of relaxation T1 reflects the interactions between the magnetization of the nuclei under study and the chemical environment in which they are found. In pure water, the molecules don’t have much to encounter and their T1 is very long (a few seconds). In biological tissue that contains a large number of diverse molecules, the T1 of water is around 3 to 6 times shorter, but cancerous tissue in general has a longer T1 (that tissue swelling with water due to edema), whence Damadian’s idea to measure the T1 of the hydrogen nuclei of his stomach.

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