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Section: Research Program

Technical challenges for the analysis of neuroimaging data

The first limitation of Neuroimaging-based brain analysis is the limited Signal-to-Noise Ratio of the data. A particularly striking case if functional MRI, where only a fraction of the data is actually understood, and from which it is impossible to observe by eye the effect of neural activation on the raw data. Moreover, far from traditional i.i.d. Gaussian models, the noise in MRI typically exhibits correlations and long-distance correlation properties (e.g. motion-related signal) and has potentially large amplitude, which can make it hard to distinguish from true signal on a purely statistical basis. A related difficulty is the lack of salient structure in the data: it is hard to infer meaningful patterns (either through segmentation or factorization procedures) based on the data only. A typical case is the inference of brain networks from resting-state functional connectivity data.

Regarding statistical methodology, neuroimaging problems also suffer from the relative paucity of the data, i.e. the relatively small number of images available to learn brain features or models, e.g. with respect to the size of the images or the number of potential structures of interest. This leads to several kinds of difficulties, known either as multiple comparison problems or curse of dimensionality. One possibility to overcome this challenge is to increase the amount of data by using images from multiple acquisition centers, at the risk of introducing scanner-related variability, thus challenging the homogeneity of the data. This becomes an important concern with the advent of cross-modal neuroimaging-genetics studies.