Scientists create new brain scanner worn like a helmet

Normally when someone needs their brain scanned, they end up using a traditional fixed magnetoencephalography (MEG) machine that limits movement. Researchers at the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre, University of Nottingham and the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, UCL have created a new generation of brain scanner that is worn like helmet. It can be used by people who can't use traditional MEG devices.

The big benefit of this type of brain scanner compared to current scanners is that the new MEG scanner allows the patient to move naturally while being scanned. The scientists have demonstrated that the new scanner allows the measurement of brain activity while the wearer is making natural movements.

The scanner was used in testing to measure brain activity while the patient was nodding, stretching, drinking tea and even playing ping pong. In addition to being small and lightweight enough to be worn during movement, the new MEG device is also more sensitive than current devices. The hope is that the new scanner will allow treatment for people who can't use traditional fixed EMG devices due to epilepsy or neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease.

Researchers use MEG devices to map brain function by measuring the magnetic fields produced by electrical currents inside the brain. Current MEG scanners are large and weigh around half a ton due to the sensors used to measure the magnetic field of the brain needing to be kept very cold. The bulky cooling tech needed to cool those sensors to -269C makes the scanners so large.

The current scanners also require the patient to be very still because even a slight 5mm movement can make the images captured unusable. The new helmet MEG device can be made to fit anyone needing to be scanned. The scientists are now working on a new device that will look like a bicycle helmet. The researchers believe the new type of scanner will provide a four-times increase in sensitivity in adults and possibly a 15-20-fold increase with infants.

SOURCE: University of Nottingham