Tracking the changes to the brain's white matter using MRI scans can help spot the deadly HIV virus.
According to researchers, HIV has spread to the brain in around ten to 15 per cent of patients. Despite effective drug treatment, HIV may still persist in the brain and lead to cognitive problems.
The findings, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, showed that patients whose brains showed definite signs of change in the white matter were 10 times more likely to have HIV in the brain than those with normal white matter appearances.
"HIV treatments have come a long way, but patients whose HIV is suppressed by drugs can still have cognitive problems due to HIV related inflammation," said Ravi Gupta Professor at University College London.
Currently, the treatment procedures include a lumbar puncture to confirm this, which involves inserting a needle into the back to draw out the spinal fluid and test it for HIV. This is quite an invasive procedure that requires patients to stay in hospital for several hours.
However, "Our new study shows that MRI scans could help to identify high-risk individuals for further follow-up tests," Gupta said.
"MRI scans can help to diagnose these patients, whether showing an elevated risk of HIV-related problems or finding a different cause that can then be treated. Where HIV has spread to the brain, we can change the treatment regime to add drugs that cross the blood-brain barrier more effectively to control the infection," he added.