HALIFAX -- Researchers at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax are working to shed some light on the connection between the brain and COVID-19.

Steven Beyea is the diagnostic radiology science lead at the QEII. He is part of a team that is using a one-of-a-kind MRI machine to study the virus.

“What we are doing is looking at imaging the brains of people who are hospitalized with COVID,” says Beyea.

“Looking for, is there an association between those patients who are hospitalized and are able to recover, versus those patients who are hospitalized and need additional critical care support?”

Dr. David Volders, a neuroradiologist at the QEII, says the MRI machine they are using has several advantages compared to other scanners used around the world.

“It is smaller and easier to clean, which means that we can actually move patients in and out much quicker and more efficiently,” says Volders.

“It is also better in the way that we can look at specific parts of the brain in more detail and that can actually help us in our fight, that we can actually understand the disease better. Because, up until now, we know that COVID-19 affects the brain, but we don’t really understand how it does that.”

The COVID-19 research taking place at the QEII is unlike any other, according to Beyea.

“The research that we are doing with these patients is going to be unique globally and, in part, that is driven by this novel technology from Synaptive Medical,” says Beyea.

“This new MRI – which is not just the first of its kind in Nova Scotia, not even the first of its kind in Canada, but the first of its kind in the world – this is what’s going to allow us to do a study, that frankly, would be difficult to do at hospitals elsewhere around the world and really is going to let us lead within this particular area.”

Volders says their research is one part of a puzzle that can help target COVID-19 treatment.

“The ultimate goal, of course, is to have a vaccine that can cure patients and prevent the patients from getting sick,” he says.

“In the meantime, we need to be sure that we can get a better sense of what this disease is doing so we can actually target our resources and our treatment in a very specific way.”