Wearable Brain Scanning walking 600x277

Traditional imaging technologies require the subject to lie as still as possible. The payoff is in the form of highly detailed images of the inner structures of whatever is scanned. Unfortunately, this means that it is not possible to scan body parts while the person is in motion or otherwise active. We’ve written about mobile brain scanners before, but here’s an update on the project. A group of scientists at the West Virginia University Center for Neuroscience wants to raise the bar of possibility with imaging to include scanning while the subject moves about, performing specific actions.

The WVU team’s goal is a wearable, mobile molecular positron emission tomography (PET) imaging device. If you think of some of the very first MTV music videos where singers and dancers wore elaborate techno headpieces, you’d be pretty close to what a PET helmet looks like today. The project promises useful information for brain imaging with people who are suffering or in recovery from neurological diseases or conditions. “Imagine being able to look at the brain of a stroke patient engaging in rehab exercises or to determine how and why an autistic person’s brain reacts differently during active social situations,”  said Julie Brefczynski-Lewis, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the WVU School of Medicine Department of Physiology and Pharmacology.

Lower levels of radioactive materials with mobile units than with stationary imaging machines could be another advantage of PET helmets. “The ambulatory aspect is only part of the story; because it’s so close to the head, we will be able to use a much lower and safer dose,” said Brefczynski-Lewis. The helmet will be used initially for research as scientists learn more about neurological conditions such as dementia, stroke, traumatic brain injury, and depression.

As the PET helmet development continues, reduction in size and higher resolution imaging could eventually mean use not just in laboratories but also in hospitals, clinics, and physicians offices. With rapid advances in miniaturization and battery chemistry, future applications of PET hats or caps may be standard equipment during rehabilitation exercises.