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March 16, 2015

OpenfMRI allows neuroscientists to share brain research data

The growing database is helping researchers discover new insights and it could become a powerful tool for diagnosis

Researchers around the world can compare notes on one of the most powerful tools available for imaging human brain function, the fMRI, thanks to support from the National Science Foundation (NSF). An fMRI is a functional magnetic resonance imaging scan that measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood oxygenation and flow.

Researchers use fMRI to watch how blood flows through active areas of the brain in real time, and the scans can be used to produce "maps" of activity during a brain's thought processes. These maps change based on what a person is thinking. Globally, researchers run more than 2,000 fMRI studies every year, but currently, there is limited infrastructure for sharing results.

With support from NSF's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE), cognitive neuroscientist Russell Poldrack and a team at Stanford University launched new infrastructure to enable sharing. The project, called OpenfMRI, allows scientists to share their data easily and securely in a standardized format. The advantages are clear to Stanford neuroscientist Vinod Menon, who researches brain development in children with ADHD and autism. Menon is using OpenfMRI to validate his research because he says the more fMRI scans he can analyze, the more certain he can be of his conclusions. Menon says as more studies are added to OpenfMRI, it becomes a powerful tool for diagnosing and treating neurological disorders.

The research in this episode is supported by NSF grant #1131441 , CRCNS Data Sharing: An open data repository for cognitive neuroscience: The OpenfMRI Project. CRCNS stands for Collaborative Research in Computational Neuroscience.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Ann Kellan, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.