Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are taking magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to new levels. By using a tiny radio antenna implanted in the brain as a sensor, they can detect electrical currents and light generated by luminescent proteins, according to a study published this week in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
“MRI offers a way to sense things from the outside of the body in a minimally invasive fashion. It does not require a wired connection into the brain,” said the study’s lead author Aviad Hai, PhD, a postdoc working in Alan Jasanoff, PhD’s, brain imaging lab. “We can implant the sensor and just leave it there.”
Prior to this emerging research, electrical activity in the brain could only be evaluated by inserting an electrode, an invasive practice that can harm tissue. To create an effective measurement tool, the researchers shrunk down a radio antenna to only a few millimeters, and aligned its frequency to the radio waves produced by hydrogen atoms.
This technique can identify local field potentials (the total number of electrical currents generated by a group of neurons) and electrical signals similar to the kind created by action particles. The super small sensor could locate electrical activity in the brain and could also be engineered to measure certain brain chemicals such as glucose. Additionally, this procedure involved sensors that could pick up light “emitted by cells engineered to express the protein,” according to MIT News.