Using new technology to map signals in the brain

Sensors based on nanothreads that are superconducting in liquid nitrogen are offering new ways of measuring activity in the brain. In the future, the technique may revolutionize brain research and add to our knowledge of how stress affects us, for example. It will also simplify diagnosis of patients suffering from neurological diseases.

“This project is one of the most exciting things I have done in my research career,” says Dag Winkler, Professor of Physics at Chalmers University of Technology.

He and Justin Schneiderman, Associate Professor of Medical Technology at the University of Gothenburg and MedTech West, enthusiastically describe the interdisciplinary research project they are jointly coordinating. The aim is to develop a more sensitive sensor system for magnetoencephalography (MEG), an advanced instrument that measures brain activity.

The project brings researchers in physics that are developing superconducting nanoscale components together with brain researchers in neuroscience and physiology. The research is a continuation of earlier progress in these fields. Thanks to funding from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the process of combining the research teams has gained new momentum.

“The grant enables us to link up the research here at Chalmers and Karolinska Institutet with that being conducted at the University of Gothenburg and the Sahlgrenska Academy. This means that we can create a strong Swedish and Nordic hub for research into sensor technology and brain imaging,” Dag says.

The SQUID senses magnetic fields

MEG uses a very expensive instrument that can record the magnetic fields produced by electric currents generated by neurons in the brain. Such systems are found at some specialist hospitals and are used both for research and clinical examinations, e.g., when preparing for surgical brain interventions, and in diagnosing epilepsy and dementia.

There is only one full MEG system in Sweden today. It was bought by Karolinska Institutet with funding from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, and is operated by NatMEG – the Swedish National Facility for Magnetoencephalography– with which the project is collaborating.

“By comparing the new sensor technology with this state-of-the-art MEG system while learning more about the clinical and research needs, we will be able to further refine our components,” explains Justin Schneiderman.

To read the rest of this article, published in Medical Press, please click here.