Wireless Brain Sensor Could Change Neuroscience Paradigm

Qmed Staff

December 9, 2014

3 Min Read
Wireless Brain Sensor Could Change Neuroscience Paradigm

A wireless brain sensor developed at Brown University could open new doors for neuroscience, enabling subjects to be monitored in natural environments rather than to be tethered to a nearby computer via a bulky cable plugged into the patient's head.

"We hope that the wireless neurosensor will change the canonical paradigm of neuroscience research, enabling scientists to explore the nervous system within its natural context and without the use of tethering cables," said David Borton, PhD in a statement. "Subjects are free to roam, forage, sleep, etc., all while the researchers are observing the brain activity. We are very excited to see how the neuroscience community leverages this platform," added Borton, who was intimately involved in the research.

Describing their research in the journal Neuron, the scientists reported that the system proved capable of generating high-fidelity neural data of animals while they slept, woke, and exercised.

The device was able to capture the "richness of electrical signals from the brain" in animal studies, explained Arto Nurmikko in the aforementioned statement. This enabled neural circuit activity to be detected indicating natural animal behavior. "This enables new types of neuroscience experiments with vast amounts of brain data wirelessly and continuously streamed from brain microcircuits," added Nurmikko, who is a Brown professor and senior author of the Neuron study.

The neuroprosthetic device is comprised of a 100-channel transmitter and a four-antenna receiver. The compact low-power transmitter measures 5 cm in its largest dimension and weighs 46.1 g. "It dissipates two magnitudes less power than commercial 802.11n transceivers to broadcast a comparable rate of high-speed data--up to 200 megabits per second--within a few meters distance," said Brown research engineer Ming Yin. "The low power and small size, along with built-in electrostatic discharge protection features, make our device safer and more practical for mobile subjects."

The receiver resembles a Wi-Fi router and uses signal processing algorithms to maintain the integrity of the transmitter's signal regardless of the patient's location within its range.

The wireless brain sensor was used in one experiment with three rhesus macaques walking on a treadmill to detect the neural signals linked with the brain's instructions to move limbs. "In this study, we were able to observe motor cortical dynamics during locomotion, yielding insight into how the brain computes output commands sent to the legs to control walking," explained Borton.

The researchers also used the sensor to study the sleep/wake cycles of animals without worrying about how cables or wireless might disturb their sleep. The technology proved capable of successfully monitoring brain wave changes as the animals drifted into sleep and came back to consciousness.

The technology is now being licensed for commercial development.

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Brian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of MPMN and Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz.

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