Boys Town Leads National Research Efforts with Twice the Capacity for Major Discoveries in Pediatric Neuroscience
Saturday, March 27, 2021
“As the only site in the world with two next-generation MEG Neo systems, we'll have twice the capacity for major discoveries in pediatric neuroscience and neurotherapeutics and be able to directly impact the lives of children and families. Boys Town has the infrastructure and a history of doing things like this and we are excited to carry on this critical mission," said Tony Wilson, Ph.D., Director of the Institute for Human Neuroscience and Patrick E. Brookhouser Endowed Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience.
MEG (magnetoencephalography) is unique in that it can see what is happening in the brain at a very fast millisecond level – meaning that it will allow researchers to image the brain at the speed of thought. With MEG, it is possible to see thoughts and sensations evolving in the brain as one processes their environment.
“In some of our MEG experiments, we show individuals a picture of a word, then we can watch the portion of their brain that controls vision activate or light up," said Wilson. “And from there, we can watch it progress through the brain and activate different regions as the person sounds out the word, then understands the meaning of the word, and then vocalizes the word."
MEG technology uses highly sensitive magnetic sensors that are configured into a helmet to measure brain function. The helmet is comfortable, and participants are typically seated with their head within the helmet throughout the study. MEG studies are noninvasive, totally quiet, and are often a better fit for children than an MRI given the comfort factor.
An example of a practical application is for patients who have brain tumors. In the case of a brain tumor, surgery is performed to remove the tumor. But outcomes are much better if important functions such as the motor control of hands, feet and face can be accurately mapped. Further, mapping the location of the person's language function with MEG can help ensure the patient does not have a major language deficit following the surgery. The precise MEG map of these essential functions is passed on to the neurosurgeon so that these parts of the brain can be spared to the extent possible during the surgery.
The Institute for Human Neuroscience is one of the most cutting-edge neuroscience research facilities in the nation, and includes a high-performance research-grade Siemens Prisma MRI, two next-generation MEG systems, a mock Prisma MRI scanner, and other state-of-the-art instruments for human neuroscience research. This technology supports the work of the research team to define normal brain development in children and identify the impact of traumatic experiences on brain development, as well as the brain changes associated with the emergence of psychiatric conditions like anxiety disorders, depression or schizophrenia.