Posted on Mar 13, 2009, 8 a.m.
By gary clark
Joseph Culver, Ph.D., and his colleagues from Washington University Medical School have developed a new brain imaging technique called high-density diffuse optical tomography that enables them to study developing infant brains.
Studying brain function in infants has been possible through the use of magnetic resonance imaging. But since the equipment requires patients to lay still in a tightly confined tube as a large noisy magnet takes images, it can be upsetting - unless the baby is asleep or sedated.
Radiologists from Washington University Medical School have developed a "baby friendly" technology to monitor brain activity with no exposure to radiation or loud noises. In fact, the baby can be sitting on a parent's lap during the procedure. Dr. Culver explains that a flexible cap is placed around the baby's head. Inside the cap are fiber optic cables, some of which shine light on the head using high-density diffuse optical tomography (DOT). This employs "harmless" light from the near-infrared light spectrum, which unlike X-rays or ultrasound, is able to pass through bone easily. The diffused light is used to measure blood circulation and oxygenation in the brain's blood vessels. Scientists have found that when the baby is involved in a mental task, these characteristics increase.
"There's an increase in blood flow to that area and that allows us to map that neuron activity," says Dr. Culver. And he adds, "It's similar to taking a flashlight and putting it on one side of your hand and looking at the light come through your hand so the light has traveled through your hand and the light that you detect on the other side tells you something about what's inside your hand. And it has a more wearable cap so it can be placed on infants heads while they sit in their parents lap."
Radiologists may be able to use this new technology to monitor newborn babies in their incubators, gaining invaluable information about their developing brains - and possibly to treat infant brain injuries.
News Release: Radiologists use light to scan the inner workings of the brain www.sciencedaily.com