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The authors present a new approach for detection of brain tumor boundaries in medical images using a Hopfield neural network. The boundary detection problem is formulated as an optimization process that seeks the boundary points to minimize an energy functional based on an active contour model. A modified Hopfield network is constructed to solve the optimization problem. Taking advantage of the collective computational ability and energy convergence capability of the Hopfield network, the authors' method produces the results comparable to those of standard "snakes"-based algorithms, but it requires less computing time. With the parallel processing potential of the Hopfield network, the proposed boundary detection can be implemented for real time processing. Experiments on different magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data sets show the effectiveness of the authors' approach.