Certain brain processes happen in the blink of an eye – and even faster – which has made pinpointing these events virtually impossible. The advent of magnetoencephalography (MEG) changed all that, enabling researchers to capture brain electrical activity measured in milliseconds, and offering the potential to reveal the nature of innumerable brain disorders and diseases. Swinburne University of Technology is set to join the global MEG community with the acquisition of Elekta Neuromag® TRIUX, Elekta's latest generation MEG system.
"With MEG, you can localize and map where brain activity is happening and you can do that in real-time – from moment to moment – with millisecond resolution," says Prof. Michael Kyrios, Director of Swinburne's Brain and Psychological Sciences Research Centre. "This degree of 'temporal resolution' is unavailable in any other form of imaging, such as MRI, which provides great images but not particularly great temporal resolution. MEG is relatively new technology, it offers new possibilities and we want to be part of that."
Swinburne's Elekta Neuromag TRIUX system, scheduled to become operational in mid-2011, will be a part of the University's Brain and Psychological Sciences Research Centre and will be sited in the new Advanced Technology Center (ATC). The ATC houses a formidable array of complementary brain research technology, such as a 3.0T MRI, EEG and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Additional ATC facilities include clinical trial, psychopathology and baby labs, as well as a center to disseminate evidence based psychological treatments via the Internet.
Prof. Kyrios is presently overseeing the recruitment of several research staff who can exploit MEG's unique capabilities in many areas. Broad categories include:
- Cognitive and visual processes, such as decision-making and facial processing. For instance, MEG can be used in multifocal visual source localization, as well as studying people’s reactions in various situations requiring a decision, for example, in response to a moral dilemma or a market product.
- Neurological diseases/disorders, such as stroke and dementia. Epilepsy also is a major focus, as MEG has been used widely to map epileptic foci before surgically treating the disease. Swinburne investigators will be working closely with a local epilepsy center to determine how MEG can assist its program.
- Mental health disorders, such as ADHD, autism, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), compulsive hoarding and buying, and body dysmorphic disorder, in which sufferers dwell on minor physical imperfections.
"People with autistic tendencies pick up different types of social cues and they process social information quite differently," he explains. "We want to know the differences between various disorders and normal functioning.
"A study I will coordinate is an investigation of moral reasoning in OCD," he continues. "We know that people with OCD have a hyperdeveloped sense of morality, so we can use MEG to compare how they perform certain tasks with people who have an underdeveloped sense of morality."
Swinburne researchers will use their Elekta Neuromag TRIUX not only to explore the nature of diseases and disorders, but also to assess the impact of different treatments, Prof. Kyrios adds.
"MEG will be very useful in helping us disentangle how various therapies work and what are the differential processes," he observes. "Are drugs working differently than behavioral therapies? Do they work differently than cognitive therapies? Are rehabilitation treatments for stroke and dementia useful and how do they work?"
The addition of its new Elekta MEG system once again demonstrates Swinburne University of Technology's devotion to clinical research that makes a difference to the people of Victoria, according to Prof. Kyrios.
"At the end of the day, we just want to make an impact on the community," he says. "We want to do research that will help us develop applications that improve the well-being of our people. Our new MEG system is consistent with that mission."