Human brain is definitely the most complicated biological structure and studying it is really a Herculean task. For now, GE scientists are working on a wearable, high resolution ‘helmet’ with which the doctors could examine the brain on a cellular level. Also the device is portable and patients could move around with it. Therefore, this device allows the doctors to study motor activity in the brain.
The global technology director for diagnostics and biomedical technologies at GE Global Research, Nadeem Ishaque commented that if this effort would prove to be successful, then it would mark a vast advancement in imaging technology which would enhance the study of brain function both in diseased and normal states.
This project is a part of President Obama’s Brain Initiative which was launched by him last year in the month of April. The project has set some goals which include developing new ways to image the brain and understand its function. Also, its goal is to uncover, treat and prevent brain diseases and disorders like Alzheimer’s, autism and concussions.
GE is working on the helmet in partnership with the West Virginia University, the University of California-Davis and the University of Washington. It will make use of PET (positron emission tomography) to reach down to the level of individual cells and look for any signs of neurological disorder or misfolded proteins.
Ishaque also said that many important classes of neurons and glial cells are undetectable by imaging techniques due to their low concentration. Therefore, this device could help them understand on how brain circuits and networks work, and how they are organized.
Unlike technologies which image physical structures such as organs and bones [eg: MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and X-Ray,], PET detectors study the functions of the body. To use this device, the doctors will first inject the patients with special tracer molecules which get attached to the target tissues. These tracers contain radioactive isotopes and thus, they help the physicians listen to the signals and measure their distribution.
Ravindra Manjeshwar, who runs the functional imaging laboratory at the GRC said that they still know very little about the brain and PET images are still fuzzy and blobby. He also added that this technology could improve the molecular sensitivity by a couple of orders of magnitude.