On a coalmine and an MRI scanner – Is it fun, participating in DELTA? (2)

About two and a half years ago, Dr. Emma Sprooten started the DELTA project. In DELTA, acronym for Determinants of Long-term Trajectories in ADHD, she investigates factors that contribute to the difference in (severity of) symptoms and impairment in people who were diagnosed with ADHD as a child. Previously, these adults participated in a study called NeuroImage when they were a child. We asked them if they were willing to participate one more time in this study. We will post three blogs about the project. This is blog 2.

What happens on a test day?

Back to Essen, autumn 2019. Our participants receive a letter with an indication of the address and a photo of the exact building. Even then, a lot of them seem to be somewhat confused. Is the appointment really here, in this place? Yes, the 7 Tesla MRI scanner that can produce super detailed images happens to be here. On the premises of an old coalmine, that is now a UNESCO world heritage site, as we’ve seen last week.

When everyone has arrived, we start with coffee. Long travels make thirsty, right? While we serve coffee, participants fill in a form with questions about their health. This is to make sure that their health is compliant with the German safety rules to undergo a 7 Tesla MRI scan.

When we enter the scanner room wearing shoes that contain metal parts, we can actually feel that this scanner has a very strong field strength: some shoes make you feel like wading through water! This strong field strength is why participants wear the green or blue clothes that surgeons wear in the operation theatre. A lot of ‘normal’ clothing has metal parts (such as zippers) or invisible metallic microfibers. This would give distortions on the data we gather or, even worse, can cause burns on their skin.

Going into the scanner is a special experience too. Because of the strong magnetic field, you may feel dizzy when moving into the scanner. One of our participants told afterwards: ‘I was really a bit confused: huh, I didn’t use drugs, what’s happening!?’ Compared to the 3 Tesla scanner in Nijmegen, where we also make an MRI scan, participants are placed quite a bit deeper into the bore of the scanner. Their whole body actually is inside the tunnel. So not having claustrophobia is also important. The participants spend the next 45 minutes in the dark, accompanied by loud rhythmic noise, until the scan is finished.

Time for lunch. During lunch, we transfer the data from the scanner to our hard drive, so that we can take it back to Nijmegen. Because the scanner registers the brain in such a detailed and precise manner, it generates a lot of data. The files that the scanner generates are so big that it lasts about half an hour to transfer the files!

Lunch is also a good time to have an informal chat about how the first day of testing – in Nijmegen – had been. During the first test day in Nijmegen, we also make an MRI. This MRI is made on a 3 Tesla scanner. In Nijmegen the scan consists of a part where you can just lie down and a part where you, still lying down, do some mental exercises. In that first part we measure brain anatomy and the activity of the brain at rest. During the mental exercises, we measure what happens in the brain while performing the exercise. Next to scanning we ask participants to fill in questionnaires, and do some tests to measure their IQ. We also do clinical interviews to assess the presence of ADHD symptoms and possible comorbid disorders.

After lunch we usually schedule one of the clinical interviews that are part of the project. When this is finished, it is time to head back to Nijmegen!

While collecting the data, we learn a lot about how people integrate ADHD in their lives. We feel honored by all these people telling us their life stories and helping us by participating in our project. Some participants tell us that they learned more about themselves or gained new insights. A compliment that makes us grateful.

Next week, we will explain why we drive all the way to Essen with our participants, and provide you with some information on the content of the project.

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