A REVOLUTIONARY scanner will soon be allowing doctors to examine the brains of toddlers as they play.
The machine, designed to look like a space-rocket, will make it possible for the first time to carry out accurate surgery on two-year-olds suffering recurrent epileptic fits.
It could also lead to more accurate ways of diagnosing problems such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The €2 million paediatric magnetoencephalogram (MEG) device being built by British scientists is the first of its kind in Europe. It is due to be installed in around 18 months at a brain unit opening next year at Aston University in Birmingham.
The MEG measures brain waves using a helmet containing 300 detectors sensitive to tiny magnetic fluctuations induced by neuron activity.
Because it avoids the problem of electrical signals from brain cells being distorted by the skull, it is much more accurate than a traditional electroencephalogram (EEG). A unique feature of the machine is that a child does not have to keep completely still during the scan.
Professor Paul Furlong, leading the design team at Aston University, said: “Our new scanner will look like a space rocket. It will be fun for children to sit in it. You can let them play their favourite video games but at the same time as they’re moving the joystick you can assess their motor and visual function. You can make it into a game.”
Surgeons operating on the brain lesions — areas of damage — that cause epilepsy have to take great care not to cause accidental damage leading to paralysis.
Currently this is done by stimulating parts of the brain and asking conscious patients what sensations they feel. The technique allows the surgeon to spot areas he must keep clear of when removing the damaged brain cells.
However this approach is impossible in very young children, said Prof Furlong. Doctors have to wait until a child is around 11 before attempting such a procedure. As a result, surgery is delayed, and the outcome of treatment may not be as effective.
Without the invasive examination, lesions can be identified in children as young as two and surgically removed.
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