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Wearable brain scanners to enable broader, easier, cheaper access to neuroimaging

Cred­it: Uni­ver­si­ty of Not­ting­ham


This Brain Scan­ner Is Way Small­er Than fMRI but Some­how 1,000% Creepi­er (Giz­mo­do):

It may look like some­thing befit­ting Halloween’s Michael Myers, but the device pic­tured above is actu­al­ly a break­through in neuroscience—a portable, wear­able brain scan­ner that can mon­i­tor neur­al activ­i­ty while a per­son is mov­ing… It uses a tech­nol­o­gy called mag­ne­toen­cephalog­ra­phy, or MEG, which mea­sures mag­net­ic sig­nals gen­er­at­ed by the brain’s elec­tri­cal cur­rents at the scalp. With math­e­mat­i­cal analy­sis, those fields can be used to cre­ate a 3D map of brain func­tion with mil­lisec­ond res­o­lu­tion.

…British researchers man­aged to shrink the tech­nol­o­gy down to an over-sized hel­met with the help of quan­tum sen­sors. Each sen­sor con­tains a gas of rubid­i­um atoms with prop­er­ties aligned by a laser beam. Brain activ­i­ty can cause a tiny mag­net­ic field, and thus induce tiny changes to these atoms, decreas­ing the inten­si­ty of the beam. All this allows for a sen­sor that doesn’t need to be super­cooled the way com­pet­ing scan­ners do. In tests of the device, they note that the tech­nol­o­gy also enables scan­ning of the brain dur­ing more nat­ur­al activ­i­ties, like drink­ing a cup of cof­fee.”

The Study

Mov­ing mag­ne­toen­cephalog­ra­phy towards real-world appli­ca­tions with a wear­able sys­tem (Nature).

  • Abstract: Imag­ing human brain func­tion with tech­niques such as magnetoencephalography1 typ­i­cal­ly requires a sub­ject to per­form tasks while their head remains still with­in a restric­tive scan­ner. This arti­fi­cial envi­ron­ment makes the tech­nique inac­ces­si­ble to many peo­ple, and lim­its the exper­i­men­tal ques­tions that can be addressed. For exam­ple, it has been dif­fi­cult to apply neu­roimag­ing to inves­ti­ga­tion of the neur­al sub­strates of cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment in babies and chil­dren, or to study process­es in adults that require uncon­strained head move­ment (such as spa­tial nav­i­ga­tion). Here we describe a mag­ne­toen­cephalog­ra­phy sys­tem that can be worn like a hel­met, allow­ing free and nat­ur­al move­ment dur­ing scan­ning. This is pos­si­ble owing to the inte­gra­tion of quan­tum sen­sors, which do not rely on super­con­duct­ing tech­nol­o­gy, with a sys­tem for nulling back­ground mag­net­ic fields. We demon­strate human elec­tro­phys­i­o­log­i­cal mea­sure­ment at mil­lisec­ond res­o­lu­tion while sub­jects make nat­ur­al move­ments, includ­ing head nod­ding, stretch­ing, drink­ing and play­ing a ball game. Our results com­pare well to those of the cur­rent state-of-the-art, even when sub­jects make large head move­ments. The sys­tem opens up new pos­si­bil­i­ties for scan­ning any sub­ject or patient group, with myr­i­ad appli­ca­tions such as char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the neu­rode­vel­op­men­tal con­nec­tome, imag­ing sub­jects mov­ing nat­u­ral­ly in a vir­tu­al envi­ron­ment and inves­ti­gat­ing the patho­phys­i­ol­o­gy of move­ment dis­or­ders.

The Study in Context

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As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

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