Neural imaging is used by researchers hoping to gain an insight into chronic neurological conditions such as epilepsy. At present, researchers often require several different imaging techniques to fully map brain functions, making research and treatment of these conditions expensive and inefficient.
The new imaging system, developed by Prof Ofer Levi and his research students from Toronto University’s Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering (IBBME) and the Edward S Rogers Sr Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE), may one day transform the way researchers view the human brain.
The system, described in Biomedical Optics Express, uses vertical cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs), which are low-cost, easily tested, miniature microchip lasers mounted on an extremely fast, sensitive camera, which allows the operator to switch the lasers on and off with extraordinary speed and precision.
According to a statement, this rapid light manipulation (at a rate of approximately 1x/msec) means that the brain can be mapped with greater sophistication and precision. Results demonstrate that this imaging technology is able to classify veins and arteries simultaneously.
Levi plans to adapt the technology into a portable model, which would enable researchers to conduct studies with ‘freely behaving’ — or non-anaesthetised — animals.
While other portable neural mapping systems already exist, Levi’s multi-modality technology means that blood flow, oxygenation and fluorescence — the three components of the human brain that researchers look at, which currently requires three different imaging systems — can be mapped simultaneously.
The imaging system may some day enable researchers to pinpoint metabolic changes in the brain that occur just moments prior to an epileptic seizure or help doctors map the brain’s ‘areas of eloquence’ — those areas that need to remain untouched — prior to surgery on epileptic patients. Currently, these areas are mapped electrically, sometimes over extended periods of time and with great discomfort to the patient.