Scanner will allow study of two-year-olds’ brains

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.


About 70% of our planet is covered in water, in one form or another and it is vital to our survival.Appliance of science: Where does water come from?

Touched by the last rays of the sun, the grey mud of the estuary is dimpled with silver pools. Above them, rooks fly in their thousands, rooks uncountable, on different levels of the air.Interplay of rooks above Cillmanister a lovely mystery

A NEW survey confirms the presence of at least six rare spiders in Killarney National Park.Six rare spiders found in Killarney National Park

IT WAS written about an old ruin in Co Wexford but it may as well have been written for any other place.Islands of Ireland: Cows come home to Inishbarra

More From The Irish Examiner