Brain-mapping technology advances
The College of Technology is developing a new brain-mapping device to benefit people who sustain serious head injuries both at home and on the battlefield.’
UH associate professor of engineering technology George Zouridakis has teamed up with a diverse group of scientists to work on a portable, yet powerful piece of equipment that can help determine the severity of traumatic brain injuries based on near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS).’
An integral part of the team is research associate Luca Pollonini, who joined Zouridakis’ lab in September 2008. Pollonini has experience with the Italian effort to commercialize NIRS technologies.’
Visiting Japanese professors Mikio Kubota and Mayako Inouchi will join Zouridakis’ lab in April in an effort to further refine the device that has many applications in the clinical setting.’
‘ ‘Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) is usually associated with a brief change in mental status or consciousness,’ Zouridakis said. ‘About 1.1 million Americans experience mTBI each year, and a significant portion of these patients suffers long-term impairment and, sometimes, permanent disability.’
As with other injuries, the accuracy and speed of diagnosis can determine the degree of recovery.
‘As repeated mTBI can cause a wide range of neurological and cognitive deficits, early detection of mTBI is of paramount importance,’ Zouridakis said.
Diagnostic equipment used to evaluate head injuries is powerful but limited by cost and portability, he said.’
‘The common approach is Computed Tomography or CT, but the CT scanner costs upwards of $1.5 million dollars and delivers radiation to the patient,’ Zouridakis said. ‘In addition, and the scanner must remain stationary and requires specially trained operators.’
Zouridakis’ team plans to overcome cost and portability issues by combining two different types of brain-mapping technologies.’
‘Our current multi-channel device costs a little bit more than $200,000, but eventually it will be optimized into a much more economical, handheld, embedded device for both civilian and military use,’ Zouridakis said.’
The device is bulky and the sensors have to be secured to the patient’s head with Velcro straps.
One part, the electroencepholograph (EEG), measures the electrical activity of the brain while the second part, the NIRS, analyzes blood flow to the activated regions of the brain. Both are non-invasive and are essentially painless.’
‘When neurons perform a certain brain function, like for example when the brain instructs your hand to move, they produce electrical pulses at a very fast rate. EEG can measure this kind of electrical events,’ Zouridakis said. ‘However, when neurons are activated they need additional oxygen which is brought to them through the blood. These changes in oxygen demand are measured by NIRS.’
By combining the two technologies, the activity of the brain can be mapped with sufficient resolution to identify particular regions that may be compromised after a head injury.’
Zouridakis said that it will be several years until this technology will be implemented’ into the hospital setting, but his collaborations have shown great promise.’
‘Most of the existing devices are still for research purposes only. However, we have been collaborating with Professor Jose Leon-Carrion’s group in Spain, who runs probably the best traumatic brain injury rehabilitation center in Europe. He has a four channel NIRS device and has done some studies with encouraging results for traumatic brain injury applications,’ Zouridakis said.
‘Eventually, I envision a device that can be used with deployed troops to triage injured soldiers and send them either back to their unit or to a hospital for treatment. Similarly, for civilian cases of brain injury, such as for instance in car accidents, early detection of mTBI and proper treatment will optimize patient recovery.’