Brain-imaging cap under study for space and Earth use

HOUSTON-(May 8, 2002)-A lightweight, imaging cap being designed to assess brain function may go where no MRI has gone before.

"On extended space missions, there will be a need to assess brain function as it relates to performance of high-level tasks and in the event of possible illness or injury," said Dr. Jeffrey Sutton, director of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) and leader of its smart medical systems team. "This portable technology will be beneficial on Earth for assessing, diagnosing and monitoring treatment in brain disorders, such as strokes and seizures."

The device utilizes diffuse optical tomography (DOT), a technique using near-infrared light and detectors to record brain activity. The light shines through the skull into the brain and records regional differences in blood flow and oxygen levels. These differences are then analyzed to reveal areas of brain activity.

"Study participants at the Massachusetts General Hospital are being evaluated doing relatively simple tasks, such as hand movements, under normal and sleep-deprived conditions," said Sutton, an associate professor in the Harvard University - Massachusetts Institute of Technology Division of Health Sciences and Technology. "We'll also test it on patients experiencing changes in intracranial pressure, a condition which may be found in space."

Sutton's lab, in collaboration with the MGH Photon Migration Lab, wants to see how well the imaging cap performs relative to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the current standard for measuring brain activity non-invasively. The two techniques, fMRI and DOT, are compatible allowing both tests to be run on a participant simultaneously.

"We will be able to overlay the images taken from both tests, compare the results and validate DOT's accuracy," Sutton said. "Although we know fMRI has better spatial resolution, the imaging cap is portable, lightweight, less confining and would allow

Contact: Kathy Major
National Space Biomedical Research Institute

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