Scientists have developed a backpack that tracks and stimulates brain activity as people carry out their daily activities.
The technology is “a demonstration of what is possible” with portable neuroscience equipment, says Timothy Spellman, a neurobiologist at Weill Cornell Medicine. The backpack and its extensive kit of tools, he says, could widen the landscape for neurological research to study the brain while the body is moving.
Usually, it takes a lot of space and a lot of money to scan the brain
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners, which detect activity in different regions of the brain, are about the size of a truck and can cost more than $ 1 million.
And patients should remain motionless inside the device for about 1 hour to ensure a clear and legible scan.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (SMT) is also not portable; Patients should sit quietly and upright in a laboratory for about 30 minutes, while a coil provides magnetic pulses through the scalp to activate electrical neurons.
Looking for a better way, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have developed what they call the mobile platform for deep brain recording and stimulation.
How it works
A wand comes out of a 4 kilogram backpack and reaches the top of the patient’s scalp. There, the wand can communicate with a neural implant that is deep in the brain.
Meanwhile, the backpack is full of monitors – a configuration that allows real-time data collection from the implant.
At the same time, depending on the experiment, the participant may wear additional equipment to measure brain and body activities, including an electrode scalp electroencephalography cap that monitors brain activity on the surface, a pair of virtual reality glasses that monitor eye movement, and more. devices that monitor heart rate and respiration.
All this information can then be synchronized with signals from the implant.
In laboratory tests, the team was able to show that the backpack records activity and stimulates different regions of the brain without asking people to stay still. It was also able to collect the same data as an MRI machine and stimulate the brain in a similar way to SMT, the team said.
The fact that it is not related to a laboratory could allow scientists to study how the brain works while people are moving and interacting with others, rather than sitting still in an MRI, say the researchers.
However, there is a downside: only patients who have neural implants can use the device. About 150,000 people worldwide have such implants, which doctors use to treat and monitor a wide range of conditions, including Parkinson’s, epilepsy and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The team has publicly released the backpack software and plans for all scientists to use them, says study author Uros Topalovic, UCLA. The hope is that other researchers can use the technology to study neurological conditions of all kinds, without the constraints of a laboratory or a hospital bed.