SCIENTISTS say a £1.5m MRI hospital scanner is shedding new light on brain injuries and could lead to better treatment for patients.

The first results gathered using a scanner purchased as a joint venture between Durham University and South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have been published as part of wider research that could ultimately benefit people suffering from brain injuries or stroke.

The findings confirm Durham University as a leader in the field of neuroscience and, in partnership with colleagues in the NHS, researchers believe their work will feed directly into medical practice. The scanner, based at the James Cook Hospital, in Middlesbrough, was opened in 2011 and is used for clinical treatment and research.

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Researchers from Durham University’s department of psychology, scanned the brains of 20 healthy volunteers to examine how different areas of the brain interact when faced with difficult visual search tasks.

Activity in part of the participants’ brains was briefly decreased by delivering a very weak electrical current via electrodes in contact with their heads before they carried out the tasks in the scanner.

This allowed the researchers to investigate what happens in different parts of the brain when activity in one area is disrupted, as may happen in cases of brain injury.

The findings, published in the journal PLoS One, showed that disrupting one area of the brain had widespread effects in various parts of the brain while people performed visual search tasks, interactions that had been ill defined in the undamaged brain before.

Better understanding of how the brain areas interact with one another when one area is disrupted, could ultimately inform interventions and treatments for people suffering from brain injuries such as stroke.

Dr Amanda Ellison, in Durham University’s department of psychology said: “The findings from this experiment represent a really important step in furthering our understanding of how different brain regions interact in order to bring about efficient and accurate behaviour in our everyday lives.”

Professor Phil Kane, who heads the neuroscience service at the hospital, said: “I’m delighted with the benefits being brought about by the close relationship and collaboration between the university and the hospital.”

The MRI scanner is used by academics from across Durham University including those from the School for Medicine and Health and the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing, which are both based at the University's Queen's Campus in Stockton.