Writing in an article published in the academic journal Neuron, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and NeuroPace – a company engaged in creating implantable devices for the treatment of neurological disorders – claim to have developed a backpack which tracks and stimulates brain activity on the go.
According to the authors, this could allow researchers to better understand how the brain works under real-life conditions, and come up with techniques to effectively monitor diseases such as Parkinson’s and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As it stands, neuroscience often requires equipment (such as fMRI scanners and transcranial magnetic stimulation machines (TMS) used to treat severe depression) that is not only bulky, but also highly expensive and relatively inconvenient for patients and test subjects.
To circumvent this problem, the research team has developed what they call the mobile deep brain recording and stimulation platform – in essence a 4-kilogram piece of fabric jam-packed with monitoring equipment that interfaces with a neural implant lodged deep within a person’s brain, and collects data in real-time.
Depending on the experiment, participants can also wear any other piece of requisite technology, including electroencephalography caps with electrodes to monitor surface brain activity, virtual reality goggles to track eye movement, and other devices designed for the monitoring of heart and breathing rates.
Following completion of the mobile platform, the research team conducted a battery of tests and found that it was capable of recording brain activity without requiring people to remain still for extended periods of time.
In addition, the backpack setup was also shown to be quite effective at stimulating different cortical regions similar to a TMS, and collecting the same data as an fMRI – and all of that in mobile subjects.
One key limitation of using the platform is that it requires the wearer to have a brain implant, which most people, obviously, do not have. It is estimated that roughly 150,000 patients from around the world have been provided with such implants to date for the purposes of monitoring epilepsy and other neurological disorders.
The team has already released the backpack’s software and blueprints to encourage further refinement of the system by other researchers, in hopes of a new breakthrough in science.