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

Cred­it: Uni­ver­si­ty of Not­ting­ham

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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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