Office of Institutional Advancement

Health & Wellness

Jefferson Ambassadors

The PET-MR Scan: A Picture That Could Predict Your Future

By Andrew B. Newberg, MD

Heath and Wellness
PET-MR scan

Imagine being able to see what’s going on in an Alzheimer’s patient’s mind and body at the precise moment that they’re having an early lapse in thought; or being able to identify what’s causing that barely noticeable tremor in a patient’s hand long before they’re ever diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

In the world of medicine, imaging technologies such as ultrasound, x-ray computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) are the cameras that allow us to take a closer look at these occurrences. The better the camera, the better the picture; the better the picture, the easier it becomes for us to identify and diagnose disease and abnormalities in the brain and body.

At Jefferson’s Brind-Marcus Center of Integrative Medicine in Villanova, we’re using one of the best cameras available, the Positron Emission Tomography–Magnetic Resonance Imaging (PET-MR) machine. A combination of the PET and MRI technology, the PET-MR allows us to observe body structure and function simultaneously, with one scan.

For our patients, this means a more cohesive experience; they can come to one place and receive one convenient diagnostic scan, instead of having to visit multiple offices, multiple times—a big benefit for patients who have been shuffled from place to place to receive testing for various issues.

With PET-MR images, our physicians are now able to see even the near-invisible symptoms of disease and a lot sooner. When we know what’s happening ahead of time, we can identify the root of the problem and implement corrective action today to improve a patient’s health down the road.

When we can see the problem first by analyzing the images, we can then implement the most appropriate therapy or treatment based on the information those images provide. And because there is lower radiation exposure during the scan, we can repeat it again later to directly observe what changes have occurred and better understand what works and what doesn’t work for each individual patient.

In my own research, I’ve used these types of images to observe people’s brains during practices like prayer and meditation to better understand what happens in a person’s brain during spiritual experiences. In one such study, older individuals who were experiencing memory problems saw improvement after incorporating a mantra-based meditation into their daily routine. We were able to directly see the changes that occurred in those individuals’ brains both before and after implementing the recommended treatment—images from scans like the PET-MR made that possible.

The images we capture on the PETMR provide high-quality evidence to support both the traditional and alternative therapies we recommend to our patients. We know our unique approach to health works because our patients tell us so. Over half of the patients who have come to Integrative Medicine at Jefferson came because they could not be helped by anything else, anywhere else. For patients who have gone through test after test, procedure after procedure, and still have not found relief, the PET-MR and the treatments we provide can offer hope.

This is what integrative medicine is all about: taking care of the whole person. We use the best technologies available with hopes of preventing and mitigating disease. But more importantly, we focus on treating patients as partners by empowering them to play an active role in their own healing and happiness. Our goal is to help them better understand that the whole picture of their person, including mindfulness, exercise, rituals and rest, all play a role in their wellness.

As someone who is very passionate about integrative medicine, I would love to see the individualized approaches that we use become the standard in the medical profession, spurring novel research programs and new training for clinicians that incorporates both traditional scientific practice as well as more personal and holistic methods to improve patients’ health and well-being. Through the continuation of our clinical studies, and using the most advanced imaging technology available, we hope to lead a revolution in medicine that encourages practitioners to think about the human person in a brand new way, painting a brighter picture for our patients’ future health.


Andrew Newberg

Andrew B. Newberg, MD is the Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health in Philadelphia. He is also a Professor in the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University. He has actively pursued a number of neuroimaging research projects which have included the study of aging and dementia, epilepsy, and other neurological and psychiatric disorders. Dr. Newberg has been particularly involved in the study of mystical and religious experiences, a field referred to as “neurotheology.” He is the author of the new book entitled, “How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain: The New Science of Transformation.” For more information about Integrative Medicine or to schedule a PET-MR scan, please contact Andrew.Newberg@jefferson.edu.


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