July 27, 2021

Researchers wirelessly record human brain activity during normal life activities

2 min read
Researchers are now able to wirelessly record the directly measured brain activity of patients living with Parkinson’s disease and to then use that information to adjust the stimulation delivered by an implanted device. Direct recording of deep and surface brain activity offers a unique look into the underlying causes of many brain disorders; however, technological challenges up to this point have limited direct human brain recordings to relatively short periods of time in controlled clinical settings.

Wireless recording of brain activity: Implanted electrodes stream recorded data to a pocket-sized device worn by a patient. The data are then wirelessly transferred to a tablet and then uploaded to the cloud via a HIPAA-compliant server.Starr lab

This project, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

“This is really the first example of wirelessly recording deep and surface human brain activity for an extended period of time in the participants’ home environment,” said Kari Ashmont, Ph.D., project manager for the NIH BRAIN Initiative. “It is also the first demonstration of adaptive deep brain stimulation at home.”

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) devices are approved by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration for the management of Parkinson’s disease symptoms by implanting a thin wire, or electrode, that sends electrical signals into the brain. In 2018, the laboratory of Philip Starr, M.D., Ph.D. at the University of California, San Francisco, developed an adaptive version of DBS that adapts its stimulation only when needed based on recorded brain activity. In this study, Dr. Starr and his colleagues made several additional improvements to the implanted technology.

“This is the first device that allows for continuous and direct wireless recording of the entire brain signal over many hours,” said Dr. Starr. “That means we are able to perform whole brain recording over a long period of time while people are going about their daily lives.”

The implications of this type of recording are significant. The brain activity patterns (neural signatures) normally used to identify problems such as Parkinson’s disease symptoms have traditionally been recorded in clinical settings over short periods of time. This new technology makes it possible to validate those signatures during ordinary daily activities.  

“If you ever hope to use in-hospital recordings to modify a disease state through adaptive stimulation, you must show that they are also valid in the real world,” said Dr. Starr.   

Another advantage to recording over long periods of time is that distinct changes in brain activity (biomarkers) that could predict movement disorders can now be identified for individual patients. Ro’ee Gilron, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar in Dr. Starr’s lab and first author of this study, explained that this allows for a level of customized DBS treatment that was impossible to achieve previously.

“Because we are able to build a biomarker library for each patient, we can now program each DBS unit according to a patient’s individual needs,” said Dr. Gilron. “This includes personalized stimulation programs that adapt as the patient’s needs change throughout the day.”

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