Brain-scanner helmet makes diagnosis easier for children with epilepsy

Children with epilepsy will be able to get an easier diagnosis thanks to the development of a new helmet-style brain scanner.

he UK charity Young Epilepsy has worked with researchers and academics to create the world’s first wearable MEG (magnetoencephalography) brain scanning system.

Until now, MEG scanning, which is used to evaluate brain function, required a child to stay completely still for long periods, or even be sedated during the scan.

The new OPM-MEG helmet makes the process easier for children, especially those with complex health conditions, by allowing them to move around and do activities such as playing with toys. The helmet can fit a child of any age but also offers higher sensitivity and spatial accuracy.

Rosemarie Pardington, director of integrated care at the charity, said: “Having a facility like the MEG is going to make an absolutely massive difference to the children and their families.

“The wonderful thing is that clinicians already recognise MEG as a reliable tool on which to base difficult decisions, such as surgery options, due to the richness and the reliability of the data.

“This takes it to a wearable form and makes it all a much easier experience for children.”

Conventional MEG recordings are made inside magnetically shielded rooms which are very large and expensive because they rely on multiple layers of metal alloy for the shielding.

Current scanners also rely on magnetic field detectors which must be cooled to –269C to operate.

The new OPM-MEG uses a different type of sensor – optically pumped magnetometers (OPMs) – which do not rely on costly liquid helium cooling.

The new system also uses a different type of magnetically shielded room which is a fraction of the weight and cost of existing MEG rooms.

This means hospitals could eventually build their own suites.

For now, the new scanning set-up can be used at Young Epilepsy’s health and research centre in Surrey.

Tracy Benning, the mother of 15-year-old Samuel who has epilepsy, said: “With the new MEG it is going to be more of a family-friendly environment, where you can bring your favourite toys and your siblings along.

“Sam’s older brother really struggled with understanding at the beginning – it was a scary process for him also. To make it more normal will be a huge help for families like ours.”

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