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Exploring the mysteries of the brain

11 April 2006 - for immediate release

New research at Aston University in Birmingham could help unlock the secrets of the human mind – a puzzle that has captivated thinkers and scientists for centuries.

Researchers in the University’s Neuro-Imaging Research Group are employing new types of brain scanning technology that could rapidly advance our understanding of the brain.

They have just installed a new version of their MEG scanner (Magnetoencephalography), which enables the researchers to see what parts of the brain produces which brain waves. MEG measures the magnetism given off by brain cell activity at 275 different locations simultaneously, which enables the team to see exactly which parts of the brain are producing which signals.

MEG is a particularly good technology for research as it is completely non-invasive, which means scientists can study brain activity without having to perform surgery. This can be a distressing procedure if used on patients in a clinical context, particularly for children.

The Aston team use a combination of MEG and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imagining) scanners to help build up a picture of the brain to see where and when activity is taking place (MRI is perhaps the best known type of brain scanner and produces detailed images of the structure of the brain).

Being able to tell what parts of the brain are functioning has a range of valuable clinical uses and the research team work closely with hospitals to help in the study of areas like mental illness depression, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Paul Furlong, Convenor of the Neuro-Imaging Research Group said: ‘We have a particular expertise in neuro-development and we’re very interested in how the brain changes over time from childhood through to early adulthood. By working with inter-disciplinary teams of physicists, mathematicians, psychologists, and paediatric neuro-physiologists, we’re beginning to develop an understanding about how the brain works and how it develops over time.”

He continues: ‘Our research is about mapping brain functions, but it’s also about understanding how parts of the brain work together to produce thoughts and memories and all the precepts that we have about our environment. We still struggle to understand how all these disparate parts of the brain sometimes work together in concert to produce an overall view of the world as you see it and understand it, and we’ve got a long way to go, but these techniques are beginning to allow us a window to see into how these functions are developed.”

ENDS

For further press information please contact Sally Hoban on 0121 204 4552.

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