NIR spectroscopy tool 'interrogates' and shows how the brain relearns

Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) instrument capable of identifying stroke-affected areas of the brain

Scientists at the National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics (INAOE; San Andrés Cholula, Puebla, Mexico) have developed a functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) instrument capable of identifying stroke-affected areas of the brain and the sites that were activated while analyzing the oxygen content in blood flow during therapy.

Related: Noninvasive optical method promises personalized stroke treatment

The device consists of a headband or helmet equipped with emitters and light detectors, an oximeter to measure oxygen levels, a monitor, and software, explains Carlos Gerardo Treviño Palacios, an INAOE researcher. "Its operation is based on IR light, which passes through the scalp to the skull leather and displays and 'interrogates' brain activity in order to obtain information on cell metabolism, alterations in blood flow, and amount of oxygen," he adds.

He highlights that so far, they are ending the development of an oximeter and software to display images. Also, they are analyzing information that will be provided to the base hardware and detectors, and working on the construction helmet. The device will not only help to rehabilitate patients, but will create a map of the brain to detect which parts are replacing areas that died in the motor cortex after stroke and watch how the body relearns with the help of rehabilitation.

"The aim is to build a noninvasive imaging system to avoid secluding the patient into a box camera during the shooting of brain 'photography' with the limitations of the procedure, as happens with an MRI," says Treviño Palacios.

Treviño Palacios notes that although the latter method also measures the concentration of oxygen, IR spectroscopy—despite having a lower resolution—does not require the patient to lie still and requires only the use of a helmet, allowing the physician to observe brain activity and progress while continuing the patient’s rehabilitation therapy. Additional advantages are system portability and low cost.

"In parallel, we are looking for a fast optical signal; i.e., a series of changes that occur a few milliseconds before the neuron is active in the images, which shows the action potential of the nerve cell," says Treviño Palacios.

"The particular characteristics of the optical imaging system make it a unique tool in certain problems where the in vivo and in situ neuroimaging is required noninvasively and continuously for long periods of time. This is the case of the study of brain plasticity in patients going through motor rehabilitation, which should be monitored while practicing neurorehabilitation exercises during therapy sessions that can last from 45 minutes to an hour," says Treviño Palacios.

The project is also supported by the National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery of the Mexican Ministry of Health.

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