BRAIN scanner for children that looks like giant bicycle helmet could make it easier for scientists to diagnose autism and epilepsy
- The brain scanner has been used on a study with children for the first time
- Unlike most brain scanners, it can be adapted to any head shape and size
- It could help investigate disorders such as autism and epilepsy
A new wearable bike helmet-style brain scanner system could make scans easier and more reliable in children, researchers say.
The helmet allows natural movement during scanning, and has been used on a study with young children for the first time.
Scientists say this marks an important step towards improving our understanding of brain development in childhood.
Brain scanning technologies, provide useful information about brain function, but most scanners are optimised for adults.
Younger child being scanned using the MEG bike helmet style scanner. The helmet allows natural movement during scanning
As well as differences in head size, children also tend to move around more than adults during the procedure, which can negatively impact the quality of the scan.
In a paper published in Nature Communications, researchers demonstrate how they have enhanced their groundbreaking Magnetoencephalography (MEG) technology with a novel helmet design.
The Scientists say the scanner could help investigate healthy brain development as well as neuro-developmental disorders such as autism and epilepsy.
Young child having MEG brain scan whilst interacting with mum. The scanner could help investigate healthy brain development as well as autism and epilepsy
THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF AUTISM
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with autism have trouble with social, emotional and communication skills that usually develop before the age of three and last throughout a person’s life.
Specific signs of autism include:
- Reactions to smell, taste, look, feel or sound are unusual
- Difficulty adapting to changes in routine
- Unable to repeat or echo what is said to them
- Difficulty expressing desires using words or motions
- Unable to discuss their own feelings or other people’s
- Difficulty with acts of affection like hugging
- Prefer to be alone and avoid eye contact
- Difficulty relating to other people
- Unable to point at objects or look at objects when others point to them
Researchers mounted small, lightweight sensors on the helmet, which can follow the head’s motion, so that the quality of the scan is not affected by the patient’s movement.
This allowed them to record the brain’s response to maternal touch in young children aged two and five years old.
Youngsters were able to wear a replica of the helmet at home, or even ride a bike to help them get used to wearing the device and reduce anxiety.
To demonstrate that it can be adapted to any head shape and size, the scientists from the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre at the University of Nottingham, working with researchers from the University of Oxford and UCL, recorded brain activity in a teenager playing video games and a 24-year-old playing the ukulele.
Ryan Hill, the PhD researcher who led the study, said: ‘The foundations for human cognition are laid down in the first decades of life, but there have always been limited ways to study them due to restrictions in brain scanning technology.
‘A particular problem has always been movement and the fact that the large traditional fixed scanners have always required patients to stay completely still.
As well as differences in head size, children also tend to move around more than adults during the procedure, which can negatively impact the quality of the scan
‘Not only does this fail to give an accurate picture of the brain operating in a natural environment, but it also places severe restrictions on who can be scanned, with children representing the biggest challenge.’
Professor Matthew Brookes, who leads the MEG research at the University of Nottingham, said: ‘This study is a hugely important step towards getting MEG closer to being used in a clinical setting, showing it has real potential for use in children.
‘The challenge now is to expand this further, realising the theoretical benefits such as high sensitivity and spatial resolution, and refining the system design and fabrication, taking it away from the laboratory and towards a commercial product.’