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Start-Up Company Creating Wearable Brain Scanner

Brain circuits illustration

(HypnoArt, Pixabay)

8 Dec. 2020. A new enterprise, spun-off from a neuroscience lab in the U.K., is advancing a wearable scanner to detect and diagnose various brain disorders. The company, Cerca Magnetics Ltd., was formed earlier this year by Nottingham Technology Ventures, the technology transfer office at University of Nottingham, and Magnetic Shields Ltd. in Tonbridge, England, based on research at the university.

Cerca Magnetics says its wearable scanner is designed to make finding and understanding brain disorders more accessible and feasible for doctors and patients. The company is advancing a technology called magnetoencephalography or MEG that measures tiny magnetic fields generated by electrical signals in the brain. The signals are then reconstructed with algorithms to provide a picture of brain functions and malfunctions in real time.

MEG technology, however, requires super-cooled sensors using liquid helium in large, fixed pieces of equipment and keeping the head motionless while conducting the scans, a particular problem with young children. Recent advances in a technology called optically pumped magnetometers enable fabricating small, lightweight sensors that detect and measure magnetic fields in the brain.

QuSpin, a company in Louisville, Colorado, developed commercial grade optically pumped magnetometers, and collaborated with researchers at the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre at University of Nottingham that studies MEG technology to produce a prototype wearable brain scanner. A Nottingham/QuSpin team describes the device in a paper published in the journal Nature Communications in December 2019.

Cerca Magnetics is building on that prototype to develop an integrated medical system for detecting and diagnosing a number of neurological disorders, particularly in children. Magnetic Shields, which helped start the company, is a developer of enclosures for magnetic systems, including medical devices. The university and Magnetic Shields provided seed funding for the company

The Cerca device is designed to wear like a helmet to detect brain disorders with 64 optically pumped magnetometers about the size of Lego bricks, wired to a reading system. Shielding is added to prevent magnetic fields from other nearby devices from corrupting the measurements. The company expects its wearable scanner will be deployed to diagnose mental health conditions, epilepsy, dementia including Alzheimer’s disease, and traumatic brain injuries.

Elena Boto is a postdoctoral researcher in medical physics at University of Nottingham, a co-author of the Nature Communications paper, and chief scientist at Cerca Magnetics. “There are many advantages to our system,” says Boto in a university statement, “but for me the biggest is the ability to scan babies and children. Neurological disorders, like epilepsy, often strike in young children and this new system will provide new information to medical professionals which they can use in treatment planning.”

Matthew Brookes, professor of physics, leads MEG research at Nottingham, is the Nature Communication paper’s senior author, and serves as board chair of Cerca Magnetics. Brookes notes, “The Cerca system will provide an extremely advanced device for neuroscientific experimentation,” and adds, “Understanding the human brain and the many severe and debilitating conditions that affect it is one of the biggest challenges for 21st century science. This new technology will provide one of the platforms from which scientists and clinicians can begin to meet that challenge.”

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