Scientists at the University of Houston are developing a unique brain-mapping device that promises to deliver more comprehensive and accurate insights into the mind at a fraction of the cost of current technologies.
‘The typical approach currently used for brain mapping is functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI,’ said George Zouridakis, associate professor at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. ‘However, an fMRI scanner is expensive, on the order of millions of dollars, and confined in one place, as it requires a shielded room because of the strong magnetic fields. It also requires specialised personnel to maintain and operate.’
Zouridakis said his team aims to eliminate such obstacles. ‘Our technology marries high-density electroencephalography, or EEG, which measures the electrophysiological activity of the brain, with near-infrared spectroscopy, or NIRS, which provides information about cerebral blood flow,’ added Zouridakis. ‘Like the EEG, NIRS is portable, only costs about $200,000 (£144,000), does not need a special room or personnel to maintain, and can quantify both direct and indirect measures of brain activity.’
Combining the merits of EEG and NIRS in a single device that would fit on a patient’s head, Zouridakis explained, will allow the team to study both electrical and metabolic activities at the same time and improve patient benefits.
‘Typically, two separate tests are done on a patient at two different times – probably on different days – one to get the metabolic aspects and another to capture the electrophysiological aspects of brain activation,’ Zouridakis said. ‘However, the brain is dynamic, and, thus, the two recordings do not represent the same brain activity. What we propose is to get both aspects simultaneously so that the information obtained is truly complementary.’
Dr Luca Pollonini, who joined Zouridakis’ team in September as a research associate, said he hopes one day the combination of the EEG and NIRS will more accurately diagnose brain damage in hospitals and on the battlefield.