Researchers have first used a brain scanner which seems like a bike helmet and allows the participant to move during scanning in young children. It is a mark of an important step toward improving the understanding of children’s brain development.
Significance of the study
Researchers from the University of Nottingham, the University of Oxford and UCL collaborated and enhanced ground-breaking Magnetoencephalography (MEG) technology with a helmet-designed brain scanner in young children engaging in natural activities.
As we know, brain cells operate and communicate by producing electrical currents, which can generate tiny magnetic fields that can be detected outside the head. MEG can measure the magnetic fields, picturing a millisecond-by-millisecond image showing how the brain engages in different situations.
The new brain scanning method provides a new way to measure healthy brain function across the lifespan, and also the opportunity to study a range of neurological and mental health conditions in children, including epilepsy and autism.
Wearable quantum technology improves measurement
If you have ever had a brain scan, or a CT scan in any part of your body, you will know that you cannot move during the process. For a CT scan this may be OK because doctors only need an image of your body part; for a brain activity scan, things are different.
One particular problem in brain scanning technology has always been the restriction of movement. Keeping the patients to stay still not only fails to give an accurate picture of the brain operating in a natural environment, but it shows even more difficulties in children study because it’s hard to ask a child to stay still.
New quantum sensors are used in the new brain scanner, greatly reducing the weight of the equipment from a half-ton machine to a 500 g helmet that can adapt to any head size. The old equipment requires sensors to be kept at -269 degrees so it’s far from the head, while the new helmet scanner is close to the head and therefore can pick up much more signals.
Special electromagnetic coils that enable accurate control of background magnetic fields was also developed, allowing individuals to be scanned while they move freely.
Real world application
Except for looking at children’s brain activity, the researchers also used the new scanner to examine brain activity in an adult learning a musical instrument to see the brain activity when one is engaged in a natural task. This was previously not possible.
Professor Matthew Brookes, who leads the MEG research at the University of Nottingham, said: "This study is a hugely important step towards getting MEG closer to being used in a clinical setting, showing it has real potential for use in children."
In the foreseeable future, the new brain scanner may be applied to learn not only about diseases like autism in children, but other neuro-related research.