Research highlight

Neuroscience: A brain-scanning bike helmet

Nature Communications

November 6, 2019

A wearable brain scanner system using a modified bike helmet is reported today in Nature Communications. The device could make brain scans easier and more reliable in children, and facilitate the study of brain development throughout life.

Brain scanning technologies, such as magnetoencephalography (which measures brain activity based on small magnetic fields produced by the brain), provide useful information about brain function. However, most scanners are optimized for adults, which makes it difficult to monitor brain activity in infants and children. Besides 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.

To address this issue, Matthew Brookes and colleagues built a wearable magnetoencephalography device into a bike helmet. The authors 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. Children could wear a replica of the helmet at home, or even on a bike ride, which helped familiarise them with the helmet and reduce anxiety during the scanning. The researchers demonstrated that the helmet can be easily adapted to any head shape and size, by recording brain activity in a teenager playing video games and a 24-year-old playing the ukulele.

This brain scanner could help scientists investigate healthy brain development as well as neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and epilepsy.

doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-12486-x

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