For all our science and technology, there’s much we don’t know about our own bodies. When it comes to biological mysteries, the brain is at the forefront: we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of how it works (and how to handle when it doesn’t). As technology has improved, so has our understanding — but progress has been slow. Now, scientists have created a whole new way to see the brain, and all its complex inner workings.
A research team at the University of Hong Kong has invented a new neuroimaging tool that allows us to see the complex and intricate pathways inside the brain. This technology will help scientists to see how the brain actually functions, and how the parts of the brain interact with each other and the body as a whole. By combining optogenetics and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the team was able to capture how underlying brain functions actually work.
The technology operates on two levels. The optogenetics works by turning brain cells on and off using, and then determining which ones help certain functions and which don’t seem to be working as intended. The fMRI works on a larger scale, using non-invasive imaging techniques to see how the whole brain responds to stimuli. When combined, the two technologies provide a remarkably clear image of how the brain functions — and sometimes, how it doesn’t.
This technology has many applications; foremost among them is the ability to diagnose diseases like dementia and Alzheimers, and provide an early warning for autism. For those suffering from brain disease and brain injury, this could be a life-changing revelation. Further testing is needed before the technology is utilized on a larger scale, but the University of Hong Kong team has taken a giant leap forward when it comes to helping us understand our own minds.
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