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AZ Tech Beat | September 25, 2017

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UA researchers use sound waves to unlock secrets of the brain

UA researchers use sound waves to unlock secrets of the brain
Gavin Maxwell

Researchers at the University of Arizona are working on a new brain-scanning technology that could potentially revolutionize the way neuroscientists study the human brain.  

The emerging technology, acoustoelectric brain imaging or ABI, works similarly to the ultrasound technology doctors have been using for decades. ABI uses sound waves to measure electrical activity within the brain’s neural tissues in order to produce high-resolution images.

UA associate professor Russell Witte heads up the project and received a $1.15 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in October. He and his team of researchers hope that ABI will improve diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s.

This new technology already offers advantages over today’s most commonly used brain-scanning systems, electroencephalography (EEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Unlike EEG and fMRI, which produce low quality images of the brain, ABI generates more detailed pictures that allow experts to be more precise in their research. The extra detail could be exactly what researchers need to bring their understanding of how the brain works to the next level.

READ: UA developing virtual reality concussion awareness app for athletes

ABI is able to capture these high-resolution images thanks to what researchers call the acoustoelectric effect. It utilizes ultrasound waves that are externally applied to the brain. With this technique researches are better able to localize the source of electrical activity in the brain.

While there is still work to be done before its full potential is realized, ABI could have a powerful impact on the medical community. For example, it might allow neurologists to approach complex neurological disorders, such as epilepsy or schizophrenia, in new ways. With the more detailed imaging neurologists will be able to make better informed decisions about the effectiveness of certain treatments or drugs.

The human brain and the details of its inner workings still remain a great mystery to neuroscience experts. Each of our brains have over 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion different connections. Understanding how these different neurons and connections are related and how they work together is proving to be one of the most colossal scientific endeavors of all time.

ABI Witte and his team of researchers at UA are moving the ball forward, helping to unravel the ultimate mystery that is the human brain.
Learn more about university advancements at AZTB.