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Efficient, Economical Brain Imaging System in Development

Hart Levy demonstrates brain imaging system (Erin Vollick, University of Toronto)

Engineering graduate student Hart Levy demonstrates the brain imaging system (Erin Vollick, University of Toronto)

Biomedical and electrical engineers at University of Toronto have developed a neural imaging system that allows researchers to make much more complex maps of the brain with just one camera and one imaging platform. The team led by engineering professor Ofer Levi published its findings yesterday in the journal Biomedical Optics Express.

Clinicians use neural imaging to diagnose and better understand chronic neurological conditions such as epilepsy and stroke. The current state of technology, say the authors, require several different techniques and processes to fully map brain functions, making research on and treatment of these conditions expensive and inefficient.

The system developed by Levi and his student researchers adapted Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers (VCSELs), a relatively low-cost technology that uses miniature microchip lasers mounted on a fast, sensitive camera. The high speed and sensitivity of the camera allow the operator to switch lasers on and off with much more speed and precision than before.

The fast manipulations of light makes it possible to map the brain with greater sophistication and precisions, say the researchers. In the article, Levi’s team demonstrate the ability for the images to simultaneously discriminate between veins and arteries, which had not been done before, as well as establish flow velocities.

Levi says the next steps of the technology are to develop portable systems that combine the three components of brain mapping: blood flow, oxygenation and florescence. There are current portable brain mapping systems, says Levi, but none that combine all three functions. He plans to develop a portable model that would enable researchers to conduct studies with freely behaving (i.e., non-anesthetized) animals.

Future applications of the technology could involve mapping metabolic changes in the brain prior to epileptic seizures, as well as decode intentions of children in the absence of speech and gestures. Levi and a former student have submitted a patent application on the technology through the university’s technology transfer office.

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