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Atlas of the Human Brain, Cool iPhone App, but Could be Even Better

by John Moore | May 08, 2009

Recently Chilmark Research was a provided a free copy of the iPhone app, Atlas of the Brain by Sylvius MR.  Atlas of the Brain is an app targeting the medical community and can be found within the medical apps section of the iTunes store.  Following is the review written for the website, medmacs, which was established by a digital native doctor in Austria.


Cost: $24.99

The Atlas of the Human Brain is one slick application that gets a lot of ohhs’ and ahhs when I demo it to others.  Utilizing T1 magnetic resonance images (MRIs), taken in the axial, coronal and sagittal planes (89 images in all) one can look at specific slices in each plane.  On a given plane, the app will show a number of pins, each pin associated with a given region of the brain.  Hover over a pin and the name of the region is provided. Click on the pin and you are taken to a brief description of that region (e.g., location, function, etc.). Within the more detailed dscription there is also a link at the bottom to Google, which when clicked, will go forth and search for more information on that specific brain section.

Now there are two ways to get to information about regins of the brain in Brain Atlas.  The first is using simple text.  Brain Atlas has an extensive directory of virtually all of the identified regions of the brain.  If you know a specific functional area you ar3de looking for, say Precentral gyrus (it helps with motor planning and function), just do a quick search for the name in the index, up it comes, click on it and you are taken to a list of images that one can then drill down on.  This capability is useful if you know what you are looking for and wish to retrieve information quickly.

The second approach is more exploratory and honestly, the one I had the most fun with – great eye candy.  In this case you are provided a 3-D headshot graphic in a box with ability to choose one o the three primary axis.  Drag a little bar up and down, forward and back or side to side and the 3D image shows you the images/slices it has on file.  Click on an image and up it comes with all its associated pins.  Certainly not the fastest way to find a given functional area, but definitely the most fun and interesting or simply exploring the brain.

As all information and images are stored locally, directly on your iPhone, the app is extremely fast, virtually instantaneously loading up information.

But as with any app, there are areas that need improvement which I hope we will see in future versions.

First, images of higher quality and resolution are sorely needed.  Maybe the developers of Brain Atlas did not want to overwhelm one’s iPhone with a bloated memory hog of an app, memory dedicated to storing high res (at least T2 MRI) images, but one quickly reaches limitations with this app as a result of poor image quality, especially when using zoom feature.

Secondly, again related to the image quality, I found some of the images not to be perfectly planar.  This can create some big problems, especially for a student using Brain Atlas for training. In several images, the left side of brain shows a pin and region, but the corresponding right-side pin is missing.  Better planar imaging would likely correct this problem.

Third, looking at regions ad feature of the brain via a 3-D model or n index of technical terms is fine, but what happens when one forgets that technical term, or maybe is not as well-versed as a neuroscientist or neurosurgeon, what then – wade through all the information?  A better approach that I would like to see in a future version is search capability, maybe using natural language processing (NLP) that allows one to search on function of a given region as well.  THis would greatly enhance the utility of the app for the more educated lay person or physician.

The developers of Brain Atlas have done a very nice job with this first version of the app, but they have further to go before I can warmly recommend it at the price they are currently charging, which is on the high-side by iPhone app standard pricing.  High res images, better search features and more accuracy are needed for this app to be truly one great app at a good value.

3 responses to “Atlas of the Human Brain, Cool iPhone App, but Could be Even Better”

  1. […] half of these posts will be a review of a particular mobile app such as the positive one we did on Atlas of the Human Brain and the less positive one on Sad Scale.  If you are looking for even more frequent coverage of the […]

  2. Gerry Higgins, Ph.D. says:

    Sorry, but very low resolution for an MRI-based neuroanatomical atlas of the human brain.

    If you use just T1, you are missing quite a bit. Small screen size equates to poor visualization in any case. Only useful for those who are undergraduates or beginning medical students. To suggest that you can see ‘all the regions of the brain” is laughable.

    -From a former neuroanatomist and neurosurgeon with many publications in the domain

  3. John says:

    Question: Why rely on MRI images, which, as noted above, have a pretty awful resolution?
    Answer: Because they are cheap (basically free for anyone with any access to a data bank) and easy to put together.

    There is a FREE (!!) brain atlas called ‘3D brain’ in the education category that I think is far superior. It is not based on MRI images, and is therefore much easier to navigate.

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