A Thinking Cap
April 3, 2012
A collection of interwoven multicolored wires sprout from a webbed rubber beanie like a prop from a sci-fi movie. This cutting edge cap, created by Assistant Professor Solomon Diamond, measures the relationship between neural and blood activity in the brain to predict a patient's risk of a recurrent stroke. This brand new study is part of a larger plan for the working prototype, involving a licensing agreement with a Montreal-based manufacturer that could help change the way we assess human brain function.
Unveiling the relationship between neural and vascular signals over the outer brain surface—not just one local region—could eventually allow clinicians to facilitate early diagnosis of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's Disease. "We're able to measure the relationship between neural responses within the brain against hemodynamic blood flow and blood oxygen changes, while most labs out there are studying Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) and Electroencephalography (EEG) separately," says Diamond. "Our probe combines NIRS and EEG to make neurovascular assessment with this kind a standard tool for clinical research; and when the applications are found, for use in clinical care."
Diamond sees the cap helping assess brain health according to age or gender, similar to how an electrocardiogram is used to assess heart health. His research could lead to the detection and monitoring of neurological disease as well as tracking recovery from brain trauma. Other possible uses for the probe could range from helping pharmacists observe how impairments in the brain respond to different disease-modifying medications, to developing technical applications in cognitive neuroscience such as a brain-computer interface. For now, Diamond and Dartmouth engineering Ph.D. candidate Katherine Perdue are recruiting participants for the probe's first clinical trial with Dartmouth Medical School and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, which will explore the likelihood of recurring stroke, based on disruptions between neural and vascular responses.
"The studies with this technology will enable others to develop a better understanding what the brain really does—things that in the past have always been based on guesses and assumptions," says Dartmouth engineering Ph.D. candidate Paolo Giacometti, who has worked on the cap with Diamond since they landed a National Institute on Aging grant two-and-a-half years ago.
In the meantime, Diamond is finalizing a licensing agreement with a Montreal-based neuroimagining manufacturer, Rogue Research, Inc., which plans to demo the product at the Human Brain Mapping's 18th Annual Meeting in June, as well as at "Neuroscience 2012," a venue for neuroscientists from around the world to debut cutting-edge research on the brain and nervous system.
"Within a year we are going to release the product for sale to the public with hope that some research labs pick it up and give us feedback on design and performance," says Giacometti.