Moving functional brain imaging into the real world: a wearable, cryogen-free, magnetoencephalography (MEG) system


  • Prof Gareth Barnes

    University College London

  • Dr Matthew Brookes

    University of Nottingham

  • Prof Richard Bowtell

    University of Nottingham

Project summary

To understand how the brain works, researchers ask subjects who are lying inside brain scanners, to perform a task. By looking for changes in images acquired during the task, it is possible to see which parts of the brain are engaged. Magnetoencephalography (MEG) images the changes in electrical brain activity millisecond by millisecond. Unfortunately, MEG has major limitations: it is a one-size-fits-all scanner which means poor sensitivity in some people and the scanner environment is unnatural and claustrophobic and subjects must remain still. Consequently there are many things we cannot study using MEG, such as how people move or interact with one another, and there are some people who cannot be scanned, such as children or patients with movement disorders.

We will develop a new type of scanner that eliminates these problems. Our scanner will be worn like a helmet, meaning anyone can be scanned while moving freely. Because our scanner will be built using a new sensor type, it will be 5-10 times more sensitive than current machines.

This instrument will transform the scientific and clinical questions that can be addressed with human brain imaging.