Thursday, 20 March 2008

Breakthrough Technologies for Peering into the Brain.

Temporal and spatial resolution of brain - tomographic - scanning technologies are doubling each year.

What was a pipedream a mere 15 years ago - scanning and seeing the brain at the mol level - is in fast becoming eclipsed by even more sensitive instruments today.

New breakthroughs in scanning technologies now enable reduction of mol drift and noise in the apparatus to such an extent that such kit can see the tiniest motions of brain molecules and their connections to a distance less than the molecules own diameter.

Here’s the chronology:

In 1970 the best available scanning resolution was 2.0000mm in 1000 second graphical rendering, via Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

By 1980 it was 1.2000mm in 80 second graphical rendering, via Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI).

By 1990 it was 0.7000mm in 8 seconds graphical rendering, via Positron Emission Tomography (PET).

By 2000 it was 0.1000mm in 0.01 seconds graphical rendering, via Magnetoencephalograpy (MEG).

And by 2006 the best available scanning resolution was 0.0200mm in 0.004 seconds graphical rendering, via more advanced MEG.

Today, at the beginning of 2008, a breakthrough at the University of Pennsylvania Neuroengineering Research Laboratory is enabling spatial resolution high enough to image individual neurons, at 1 millisecond time resolution. This is a dramatic leap forward, as this is sufficient to record the firing of each neuron (a designation for the technology has not been announced yet).

As for the near future, there’s much excitement and activity.

One approach called ‘two-photon laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM).’ This creates a single point focus in 3D space which detects intracellular activation of individual synaptic receptors and dendritic spines at one millionth of a billionth of a second (10-15).

This steady march toward nano scale resolution (spatial and temporal) means greater elucidation of such dreadful neurological problems as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and stroke.

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