|Bridging the worlds of neuroscience and high-tech virtual realty, the Glass Brain, a project of the new Neuroscape Lab at the University of California San Francisco may open up new insights into the complicated mechanisms of the brain.|
Researchers have developed a new way to explore the human brain through virtual reality. The system, called Glass Brain, initiated by Philip Rosedale, creator of the famous game Second Life, and Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California San Francisco, combines brain scanning, brain recording and virtual reality to allow a user to journey through a person’s brain in real-time.
For a recent demonstration at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, Rosedale made his wife a cap studded with electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes that measure differences in electric potential in order to record brain activity, while he wore a virtual reality headset to explore her brain in 3D, as flashes of light displayed her brain activity from the EEG.
The Glass Brain didn’t actually show what Rosedale’s wife was thinking, but Gazzaley’s team ultimately hopes to get closer to decoding brain signals and displaying them using the virtual reality system.
"High-tech innovations take a decade to move beyond the entertainment industry and reach science and medicine. That needs to change."
In the Neuroscape lab, wireless and mobile technologies set research participants free to move around and interact inside 3D environments, while scientists make functional recordings with an array of technologies. Gazzaley hopes this will bring his field closer to understanding how complex neurological and psychiatric diseases really work and help doctors like him re-purpose technologies built for fitness or fun into targeted therapies for their patients.
“I want us to have a platform that enables us to be more creative and aggressive in thinking how software and hardware can be a new medicine to improve brain health,” said Gazzaley, an associate professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry and director of the UCSF Neuroscience Imaging Center. “Often, high-tech innovations take a decade to move beyond the entertainment industry and reach science and medicine. That needs to change.”
|Image Source - Neuroscape Lab|
Whereas ordinary EEG recordings look like wavy horizontal lines, but GlassBrain turns the data into bursts of rhythmic activity that speed along golden spaghetti-like connections threading through a glowing, multi-colored glass-like image of a brain. Gazzaley is now looking at how to feed this information back to his subjects, for example by using the data from real-time EEG to make video games that adapt as people play them to selectively challenge weak brain processes.
Gazzaley has already used the technology to image the brain of former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart as he plays a hypnotic, electronic beat on a Roland digital percussion device with NeuroDrummer, a game the Gazzaley Lab is designing to enhance brain function through rhythmic training. Hart, whose brain is healthy, is collaborating with Gazzaley to develop the game and performed on NeuroDrummer while immersed in virtual reality on an Oculus Rift at the Neuroscape lab opening on March 5.
The Neuroscape lab will be available to all UCSF researchers who study the brain. Gazzaley ultimately hopes it will aid in the development of therapies to treat diseases as various as Alzheimer’s, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia, autism, depression and multiple sclerosis.
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