During the last 5-6 years a number of articles concerning fMRI have appeared in the press explaining to us that very soon scientists will be able to catch a terrorist, killer or liar, stick him in fMRI chamber and start reading his thoughts. This is based on the idea that scientists spend enough money on the research to understand which areas of the brain will light up when the testee continuously repeats “I see an apple,” “it’s an apple,” “an apple,” “an apple,” “an apple,” while the scientist operating fMRI makes thousands of brain pictures.
I have read these articles, but let me give you some background information about fMRI, so you may understand it more in-depth too.
Haemodynamics is a medical term for the dynamic regulation of the blood flow in the brain. It is the principle on which fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is based. fMRI measures blood flow changes in different areas of the brain.
How does blood flow change in the brain? Neurons, like all other cells, require energy to function. This energy is supplied in the form of glucose and oxygen (the oxygen being carried in haemoglobin). The blood supply of the brain is dynamically regulated to give active neural assemblies more energy whilst inactive assemblies receive less energy.
The molecular biology of hemodynamic regulation is as follows:
The precise mechanism behind neurovascular coupling is currently under active research and furious debate, but basically the following model has gained consensus:
1. Auditory, visual and many other stimuli activate the excitatory neurons, which release the neurotransmitter glutamate.
2. Glutamate opens NMDA receptors on other neurons that allow calcium ions into the neuron.
1. Calcium activates nitric oxide syntheses that produce nitric oxide.
2. Nitric oxide diffuses out and dilates smooth muscle surrounding local arterioles.
3. This dilation allows more blood into the local capillaries,
4. Hence more oxygen and glucose reaches the neurons.
3. Glutamate also binds to the metabotropic glutamate receptor on astrocytes.
1. This allows calcium into the astrocyte,
2. Which activates phospholipase A2 (PLA2),
3. Which produces arachidonic acid (AA),
4. Which is converted by cyclo-oxygenase
5. Into PGE2 and released through the astrocytic endfeet,
6. Which dilates local smooth muscle and allows greater blood flow.
Ask yourself how fast these processes are. They are in the vicinity of millions of neurons in the brain. How can they follow the occurrence of thought when you have so many different thoughts almost simultaneously? These can only reflect afterthought biochemical processes. How do you distinguish between an apple and a pear even in the afterthought process?
Everyone should draw their own conclusions with what all these triumphal pieces of research are worth for the thought process. As a technology for finding a tumour or checking the brains anatomical integrity, it is a great non-invasive tool. But just using a tool because you have it in areas of thought process only demeans its general usefulness, like using a toothbrush to scratch your back.
Here is some additional information to consider: The process of increasing blood flow in the brain takes 1 to 5 seconds. The blood oxygen level dependence response peaks approximately 5 seconds after neuronal firing begins in an area and associating with the input to this area rather than with the output, therefore fMRI provides insights into neural processing that are complementary to insights of other studies in neurophysiology.
The cost of an fMRI scanner is between 1.0 – 1.5 million USD for a 1.5 tesla scanner and between 2- 2.4 million USD for a 3.0 tesla scanner. Additionally, software costs are approximately $500,000 USD.
MRI procedures themselves can vary considerably in cost but generally fall somewhere between $400 and $3,000 depending on the facility and which region of the body is being scanned.
Commercial usage of fMRI tools in the area of detecting lies by the number of companies such as Cephos Corporation or No Lie MRI, Inc. cannot be taken seriously in spite of the media giving them significant promotional attention.
Regardless of its true purpose, practicality, and even accuracy let’s JUST look at the casual fixed and variable costs of other technologies available today to provide results for 4,000 tests per year in comparison to SSRM Tek:
For argument sake, let’s say fMRI will be able to provide necessary results. It would cost $1.6 million to administer the 4,000 screening tests using 4 fMRI, which adds another $4.0 million for equipment that one SSRM Tek complex unit can accommodate for only $400,000/year.
Polygraph tests cost on average of $325 per test to administer. That’s $1.3 million to administer the 4,000 screening tests using 40 polygraph experts that one SSRM Tek complex unit can accommodate for only $400,000/year!
Brain Fingerprinting received $2,000,000 to test their technology, spent $10,000 per experiment for each of 200 people tested and it took them 2 years to do it. SSRM Tek would cost, again, just $400,000 for a yearly license and would take 2 to 3 weeks to test everyone.
Security clearance of 100,000 Chicago airport employees can be done within one year using 25 SSRM Tek complexes with the cost of $10,000,000, whereas using any other technology it is estimated over $30,000,000 and could not finish testing such a large number of people within even 5 years.
Even if it did work, look at how much it would cost. The point I’m trying to make is that no matter how much money we spend so that fMRI might work to some small degree it would be simply impractical.
This is an example purely from a costs stand point however in terms of financial commitment, in terms of time restrictions, practicality, efficiency, capability en masse, and 0.5% false positive rate, SSRM is the clear winner. The world is changing, and has changed enough where it’s no longer about catching up. We must innovate with new ideas to provide the best possible solutions for 21st century problems. The fMRI is a wonderful physical diagnostic tool and will continue to be but we should create new diagnostic tools with the sole purpose of measuring what we currently cannot, not continue to scratch our backs with toothbrushes.