According to new research, positron emission tomography (PET), a functional brain imaging technique, is a promising tool for determining which brain damaged individuals in vegetative states have the potential to recover consciousness. This is the first time researchers have tested the accuracy of functional brain imaging for diagnosis in clinical practice.
The researchers from the University of Liége in Belgium suggest that PET imaging can reveal cognitive processes that would otherwise be hidden to traditional testing. Using imaging in addition to standard behavioral assessments could improve patients with the potential for long-term recovery.
Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Johns Hopkins Medical School, the University of Maryland, and Weizmann Institute’s Neurobiology Department have all developed new and improved brain scanning techniques. These new methods allow scientists to monitor brain activity in fully-awake, moving animals.
At Brookhaven, researchers combined light-activated proteins that stimulate specific brain cells, a technique known as optogenetics, with positron emission tomography (PET) to observe the effects of stimulation throughout the entire brain. Their paper in the Journal of Neuroscience describes this method, which will allow researchers to map exactly which neurological pathways are activated or deactivated downstream by stimulation in specific brain areas. Hopefully, following these pathways will enable researchers to correlate the brain activity with observed behaviors or certain symptoms of disease.
Can you hear me now? For years, it has been popular doctrine that cell phone use is bad for our brains, but we glue our phones to our ears anyway. Cell phones emit radio frequency-modulated electromagnetic fields (RF-EMFs) that are questioned for their potential danger when the brain is exposed to them. The oscillatory frequencies of RF-EMFs correspond to those measured in neural tissue, and thus could interfere with neural activity. The amount of electromagnetic radiation given off by our communication devices is small, but is radiation all the same. Radiation exposure is dangerous for any kind of cell in our body, and can penetrate cells and damage DNA either by crashing into the molecule directly or causing damage indirectly by forming free radicals from water that can have cancer-causing effects.