Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to Launch New Brain Research Effort with acquisition of Elekta MEG Technology

Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), Elekta Neuromag system will help MIT researchers unlock mysteries of normal and abnormal brain function

Afghanistan — Monday, March 8, 2010

Researchers at MIT are eagerly anticipating the summer delivery of Elekta Neuromag®, a system that uses magnetoencephalography or MEG to explore brain function. MEG can detect the very weak magnetic fields arising from electrical activity in the brain, and allows researchers to monitor the timing of brain activity with millisecond precision. MIT researchers will use MEG to study normal cognition in children and adults, as well as the neural basis of autism, depression, schizophrenia and other brain disorders.

“MIT is exceptionally well positioned to benefit from a MEG facility on our campus,” says Charles Jennings, Ph.D., director of neurotechnology at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, which will operate the new facility. “MIT is among the country’s leading centers for neuroscience research, with a community of investigators that studies the brain at every level, from molecules and cells to human cognition and computational modeling. We also have strong programs to study a wide range of brain disorders, which will benefit greatly from access to MEG technology.”

“MIT’s worldwide reputation for advancing knowledge in science and technology for nearly 150 years makes its acquisition of Elekta Neuromag particularly gratifying, and we’re proud to be a part of it,” says Stephen Otto, Chairman of Elekta's Neuromag Business. “And it is fitting that this institution, especially, will become Elekta’s latest MEG site, as MEG was invented by David Cohen at MIT.”

The Elekta Neuromag system will be housed in the Martinos Imaging Center within the Brain and Cognitive Sciences complex, home to the McGovern Institute of Brain Research, the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Delivery of the system is expected in June and it should be operational by the fall of 2010.

The following are examples of planned MEG research projects at MIT:

  • Prof. John Gabrieli, director of the Martinos Imaging Center, will use MEG to study the neural and genetic basis of autism, dyslexia and other developmental disorders. By combining MEG with other brain imaging modalities, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalography (EEG), Dr. Gabrieli plans to search for differences in brain activation in subjects with different genetic variants that have been linked to these conditions. “Our goal is to correlate the changes in brain function with genetic risk factors, and in turn identify categories of patients for whom optimal treatment strategies could be tailored,” he says.
  • Prof. Robert Desimone, director of the McGovern Institute, plans to study the neural basis of attention. Animal studies have indicated that high frequency brain waves known as gamma oscillations become synchronized across brain areas as these areas communicate with each other to control attention. He plans to extend this work to humans using MEG, and he hopes that this will provide new insights into the basis of diseases such as schizophrenia. “Gamma oscillations are disrupted in schizophrenia, and we think this may help explain why people with schizophrenia often experience difficulty organizing their thoughts and perceptions into a coherent and meaningful whole,” Dr. Desimone explains.
  • Prof. Christopher Moore, an investigator at the McGovern Institute, seeks to understand how the cerebral cortex processes rapid sensory information. Based on his work on cortical circuitry, Dr. Moore has developed a biophysical model to account for the MEG signal. “Our aim is to link the signals that we can record from human subjects to the underlying brain mechanisms that give rise to those signals,” he says. “Arguably, we will never fully understand normal cognition or the ways that cognition fail in brain disorders unless we can achieve this deep circuit understanding.”

Other MIT faculty members expect to use the new MEG facility for a variety of studies, including MEG source localization; the neural basis of age-related changes in cognition; how individuals differ in their processing of social cues such as faces; cognitive deficits in autism spectrum disorder; the processing of complex visual scenes; neural mechanisms of speech and comprehension; how children and adults infer and reason about the mental states of other people; neural mechanisms of motor control and many other studies.

“In many ways the brain is a ‘black box.’ It is so complex—comprising 100 billion neurons and a trillion or more synapses — it’s not surprising it’s challenging to study,” Dr. Jennings notes. “But with MEG I think we’ll succeed in shining a little light in there.”

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