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Brain Development Monitoring Through Wearable Technology

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The research team, headed by scientists from the University of Nottingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy, employed an innovative magnetoencephalography (MEG) scanner design to measure brain electrophysiology in children as young as two years old. Their findings have been published in eLife.

Brain cells communicate through electrical currents that generate minute magnetic fields detectable outside the head. Using their novel system, researchers measured these fields and employed mathematical modeling to create detailed images depicting which parts of the brain were active millisecond-by-millisecond during various tasks.

The wearable brain scanner utilizes quantum technology and features LEGO-brick-sized sensors known as optically pumped magnetometers (OPMs), integrated into a lightweight helmet to detect brain activity-generated fields. This unique setup allows the system to be customized for any age group, from toddlers to adults, positioning sensors closer to the head for improved data quality. Moreover, its mobility-friendly design accommodates movement, making it particularly suitable for scanning children who struggle to remain still in conventional scanners.

The study involved 27 children (aged two to 13 years) and 26 adults (aged 21 to 34 years), focusing on neural oscillations—fundamental brain wave components that facilitate communication between different brain regions responsible for various behaviors. The research investigated how connectivity patterns change with age and how brief bursts of electrophysiological activity regulate networks of brain regions, influencing our sensory attention mechanisms.

Dr. Margot Taylor, a globally recognized neuroscientist and co-author of the study, leads autism research in Toronto. She emphasized the study’s significance in tracking brain development from early childhood, highlighting its potential implications for clinical research. Dr. Taylor expressed optimism about applying these findings to enhance understanding of autism spectrum disorder and related developmental processes.