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New Device 'fingerprints' the brain

Latest News Relevant To Alcohol and Pregnancy And Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder New device 'fingerprints' the brain; Queen's University

Mark Iype National Post Don Mills, Ont.: Nov 16, 2010. pg. A.8 Breakthrough Canadian technology that uses virtual reality to analyze brain functions will give scientists new insight into the complex inner workings of the brain, according to its inventor, attending a San Diego conference where the system was revealed on Monday. The KINARM assessment station, invented by Queen's University neuroscientist Stephen Scott, is a tool for assessing brain functions that goes far beyond traditional testing. And, with the potential to allow researchers to develop better therapies for brain injuries and disease, the medical tool could benefit many people. "The basic concept is to change how clinical neurological testing is done," said Dr. Scott, a professor in the school's Centre for Neuroscience Studies. "Traditional testing methods, such as touching a finger to the nose or bouncing a ball, just don't capture the complexity of brain processes." KINARM — Kinesiological Instrument for Normal and Altered Reaching Movement -- combines a chair with robotic "arms" and a virtual/augmented reality system that enables researchers to guide a patient through a series of standardized tasks, such as hitting balls with virtual paddles.

The various tasks are used to test sensory, motor and cognitive function, three aspects that are very difficult to measure, Dr. Scott said. Once the tests are completed, which takes about a half-hour, the system generates a detailed report, pinpointing variations from normal behaviour, such as millisecond differences in reaction times. "There is an enormous amount of data that we can collect with our system," Dr. Scott said. "It's possible to get good images of the brain or of brain waves, but it is function that determines how a patient is dealing with injury or disease." Dr. Scott said the system quantifies subtle deficits caused by a brain injury that may be missed by traditional tests. Physicians and researchers can then better track how patients are responding to treatments, whether physical or pharmacological. "You can have two patients with a lesion on the exact same spot on the brain that function completely differently," he said. "We're really trying to provide what we call a fingerprint of the brain." Robin Green, a senior scientist in neuro-rehabilitation at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, said the more detailed data that the new technology could provide may be a step forward in helping patients recover from brain injuries or disease. "What sounds like an important development is the measurement precision," she said. "That may enable clinicians to capture more subtle changes. More subtle improvements or declines." Dr. Green, who is the Canada research chair in traumatic brain injury rehabilitation, said the brain is incredibly complex, and it is never stagnant. "They evolve. People get better or worse," she said. "There are always changes that may be nuanced and affect the way we treat a patient." Knowing the full effects of a brain injury or disorder on the ability to function in daily life means more effective rehabilitation programs for patients, Dr. Scott said. More than 6,000 Canadians become permanently disabled every year from a traumatic brain injury, according to the Brain Injury Association of Canada. And after one brain injury, survivors are three times more likely to suffer a second brain injury. It also means a better understanding of the potential impact of brain diseases including stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy or fetal alcohol syndrome.

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