BACKGROUND: At the university of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a scanning device which measures the brain's magnetic field in real time is allowing clinicians to more accurately pinpoint those areas of the brain causing epileptic seizures. The scanner also can aid in the diagnosis and study of disorders such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, dementia, and schizophrenia. Currently, researchers are using the device to determine the location of seizures in epileptic patients and identify the functional centers of the brain responsible for language, vision, motor and sensory information.
HOW IT WORKS: Real-time brain mapping and monitoring is considered to be one of the most exciting areas of neuroscience today. Magnetoencephalography (MEG) measures the magnetic fields produced by electrical activity in the brain via extremely sensitive superconducting sensors. Any electrical current will produce a magnetic field, and MEG measures the field generated by the brain's electrical currents. Traditionally, brain activity has been measured using electroencephalography (EEG), in which the electrical signals are recorded from electrodes placed on the scalp.
BENEFITS: With MEG, clinicians can now map nerve cell activity in the brain non-invasivelyto see the brain in action, rather than analyzing a series of still images. The system simultaneously produces 306 separate recordings of magnetic activity and determines where it originates and which parts of the brain undertake various tasks. An MEG scan can also determine how the brain functions both normally and in cases of illness. The graphical representations produced by the system can be sent directly into a navigational system used by neurosurgeons in the operating room to help guide them to the area of the brain that should be taken out, while at the same time marking vital centers and abnormalities -- thereby improving surgical outcomes.
ABOUT EPILEPSY: Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system, specifically affecting the brain. A network of nerve cells (called neurons) runs through the body like telephone wires, delivering "messages," via chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters, from the brain. Epilepsy disrupts this vast communications network. The brain's electrical rhythms tend to become imbalanced by sudden surges, leading to seizures. Around 2.7 million Americans have been treated for epilepsy in the past five years: 8 out of every 1,000 people. And up to 5 percent of the world's population may have a single seizure at some point in their lives.
The American Association of Physicists in Medicine contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.