Scientists develop brain scanner in a helmet

A handout photo released on March 21, 2018 via Nature from Wellcome shows a woman with a brain scanner. (AFP PHOTO / NATURE / WELLCOME)
Updated 21 March 2018
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Scientists develop brain scanner in a helmet

British scientists have developed a lightweight and highly sensitive brain imaging device that can be worn as a helmet, allowing the patient to move about naturally.
Results from tests of the scanner showed that patients were able to stretch, nod and even drink tea or play table tennis while their brain activity was being recorded, millisecond by millisecond, by the magnetoencephalography (MEG) system.
Researchers who developed the device and published their results in the journal Nature said they hoped the new scanner would improve research and treatment for patients who can’t use traditional fixed MEG scanners, such as children with epilepsy, babies, or patients with disorders like Parkinson’s disease.
“This has the potential to revolutionize the brain imaging field, and transform the scientific and clinical questions that can be addressed with human brain imaging,” said Gareth Barnes, a professor at the Wellcome Trust Center for Human Neuroimaging at University College London, who co-led the work.
Current MEG scanners are cumbersome and weigh as much as half a ton, partly because the sensors they use to measure the brain’s magnetic field need to be kept very cold — at minus 269 degrees Celsius, Barnes’ team explained.
They also run into difficulties when patients are unable to stay very still — very young children or patients with movement disorders for example — since even a 5-millimeter movement can mean the images are unusable.
In the helmet scanner, the researchers overcame these problems by using quantum sensors, which are lightweight, work at room temperature and can be placed directly onto scalp — increasing the amount of signal they are able to pick up.
Matt Brookes, who worked with Barnes and built the prototype at Nottingham university, said that as well as overcoming the challenge of some patients being unable to stay still, the wearable scanner offers new possibilities in measuring peoples’ brain function during real world tasks and social interactions.
“This has significant potential for impact on our understanding of not only healthy brain function but also on a range of neurological, neurodegenerative and mental health conditions.”


Japan to trial ‘world’s first urine test’ to spot cancer

Updated 17 April 2018
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Japan to trial ‘world’s first urine test’ to spot cancer

  • Previous research has shown a new blood test has potential to detect eight different kinds of tumors before they spread
  • The research starts in April and will run until September

TOKYO: A Japanese firm is poised to carry out what it hailed as the world’s first experiment to test for cancer using urine samples, which would greatly facilitate screening for the deadly disease.
Engineering and IT conglomerate Hitachi developed the basic technology to detect breast or colon cancer from urine samples two years ago.
It will now begin testing the method using some 250 urine samples, to see if samples at room temperature are suitable for analysis, Hitachi spokesman Chiharu Odaira told AFP.
“If this method is put to practical use, it will be a lot easier for people to get a cancer test, as there will be no need to go to a medical organization for a blood test,” he said.
It is also intended to be used to detect paediatric cancers.
“That will be especially beneficial in testing for small children” who are often afraid of needles, added Odaira.
Research published earlier this year demonstrated that a new blood test has shown promise toward detecting eight different kinds of tumors before they spread elsewhere in the body.
Usual diagnostic methods for breast cancer consist of a mammogram followed by a biopsy if a risk is detected.
For colon cancer, screening is generally conducted via a stool test and a colonoscopy for patients at high risk.
The Hitachi technology centers around detecting waste materials inside urine samples that act as a “biomarker” — a naturally occurring substance by which a particular disease can be identified, the company said in a statement.
The procedure aims to improve the early detection of cancer, saving lives and reducing the medical and social cost to the country, Odaira explained.
The experiment will start this month until through September in cooperation with Nagoya University in central Japan.
“We aim to put the technology in use in the 2020s, although this depends on various things such as getting approval from the authorities,” Odaira said.