Researchers set to break new ground on ‘untapped’, alternative brain imaging technique

October 06, 2022

Study participant being fitted with fNIRS headset

Photo from Western Institute of Neuroscience

A new research group is paving Western’s way into a domain with potentially life-changing implications for our access to brain scanning technology. 

In 2006, Western neuroscientist Adrian Owen found landmark evidence for the consciousness of a patient in a vegetative state when a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan revealed her brain activity after his team told her to imagine herself playing tennis. 

This demonstrates the possibilities of brain scanning, but also reveals the limitations of fMRI as a neuroimaging technique. Namely, most of Owen’s patients couldn’t interrupt their life-sustaining care long enough to enter a multimillion dollar, 60-centimetre tube with 60,000 times the Earth’s magnetic field. This kept their true diagnoses and chances for recovery a mystery. 

Examples such as this reveal the value of an alternative imaging technique that uses light rather than magnetic fields to image the human brain. Support from BrainsCAN coupled with the excitement over this portable, affordable, and patient-friendly technique led to the formation of the Optical Neuroimaging Research Group (ONRG, pronounced “on-ergy”) at Western.  

“We’re dedicated to unlocking the potential of functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), an emerging technique also known as optical neuroimaging,” said ONRG lead researcher Jody Culham, psychology professor and Canada Research Chair in Immersive Neuroscience. “We believe we’ve only just scratched the surface of fNIRS’ possible applications, and that Western is ideally positioned to push optical neuroimaging forward.” 

Read the full story by Mason Zimmer on Western News