March 21, 2018

Worn like a helmet, a new brain scanner aims to make it easier to treat kids with epilepsy

A brain scanner now used to guide treatment of patients with epilepsy and other neurological disorders is bulky and challenging to use on fidgety young children — but researchers hope it might soon be replaced by a new machine that’s not much bigger than a bike helmet.

Scientists at University College London have created a prototype of a lightweight, easier-to-use version of a magnetoencephalography, or MEG, brain scanner. These machines monitor the magnetic field created when neurons communicate with each other, allowing physicians to see how the brain functions from one second to the next.

They’re used to diagnose patients, and are particularly helpful for determining how to treat people with epilepsy who haven’t responded to anti-seizure medications and need surgery. The MEG scans help doctors to pinpoint the source of seizures and map nearby critical areas to avoid during surgery.

“Up until now, people have had to lie on big scanners and we say, ‘Act naturally, but whatever you do, don’t move your head,’” said Gareth Barnes, who is developing the new scanner and works as a professor at UCL’s Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging. He said the new scanner could be used in research to glean more insights into how the brain works in patients with neurological conditions. The researchers published a paper Wednesday about the new device in Nature.

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