A team of British scientists and engineers has demonstrated a new technology for imaging the brain of infants and young children. The breakthrough is expected to give researchers a new way to study brain activity in natural environments without the need for expensive MRI machines.
“There’s a lot we don’t know about how the brain develops, and a large part of the problem is that it’s really difficult to study a baby’s brain with traditional scanners,” explains rob Cooper, project leader from University College London“ As any parent knows, 6-month-old babies are very active, they move all the time and are easily distracted. With techniques like MRI, subjects have to be completely still, which is almost impossible for infants unless they are asleep or sedated. “
The system proposed in the study, published in the journal neuroimage, is a new generation of wearable hats using high-density diffuse optical tomography (hd-dot). The system is called LUMO, and the prototype is from gowerlabs, a derivative of UCL. Each hexagon on the cap contains three LED light sources and four sensors. Near infrared light is used to detect the changes of brain oxygenation. Through these changes, researchers can effectively draw a real-time map of which parts of the brain are actively working.
At present, the closest imaging method that neuroscientists can use to this new hd-dot technology is called functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). However, fNIRS devices provide limited spatial resolution and may still require bulky headphones. Comparing the new hd-dot device with fNIRS measurements, the researchers say the new imaging technology is a huge advance.
“Our results are consistent with previous low-density fNIRS measurements based on similar paradigms, but show superior spatial positioning, improved depth specificity, higher SNR (signal-to-noise ratio), and dramatic improvements in the consistency of responses among participants,” the researchers wrote in a new study“ Our data retention rate also shows that this new generation of wearable technology is well tolerated by the infant population. “
The hd-dot system has been tested on 6-month-old infants and found to be very effective. Looking ahead, the researchers hope that this new technology will give neuroscientists a particularly novel insight into the brain activity of infants in the natural environment.
“The method we demonstrated is safe, silent, wearable, and can produce images of brain function with better spatial resolution than any other similar technology,” said Elisabetta Maria frijia, one of the authors of the new study“ Our hope is that this new generation of technology will enable researchers from all over the field to learn more about how healthy baby brains develop and to establish new methods for diagnosing, monitoring and ultimately treating neurological diseases such as autism and cerebral palsy. “
The new study appears in the journal neuroimage.
Editor in charge ajx