NOV 20, 2017 05:01 AM PST
Getting Inside the Brain With Virtual Reality
3 5 311

As any neuroscientist will undoubtedly attest, if there were a way for researchers to be inside a brain, able to visualize the cells, see how they work and interact with them, that would be a most fantastic adventure.

As it happens, something much like that is now possible. Researchers from the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering collaborated with experts at the University of Geneva to develop a truly immersive virtual reality environment. By donning a pair of VR glasses, users can, at least virtually, be inside a brain. Cellular behavior can be seen and whoever is wearing the goggles can interact with the brain environment. It's a mouse model, but the detail is incredibly true to life, and mouse models are often used in neuroscience research.

A poster about the project was presented at the Society for Neuroscience 2017 meeting in Washington DC recently. So how was the brain environment created? With vast amounts of data. Because of advances in neuroimaging, researchers can now see individual neurons and their firing patterns. The Wyss Center has a light-sheet microscope, and it's one of only three such pieces of equipment in the world.

It was built by Dr. Stephane Pages, a staff scientist at the Wyss Center and a principal researcher at Campus Biotech at the University of Geneva. Called the Clarity-Optimized Light Sheet Microscope (COLM) it's capable of looking at a tiny slice of brain tissue and creating multiple images, like slices, and from that, a 3D rendering can be made. The COLM can eliminate the opaque fluid found in tissue samples, and this allows an entirely transparent image to be formed, in 3D.

The VR component is helpful because the data and imaging that come out of such advanced equipment can be hard to manage. While the structures visualized are tiny, the amount data needed to fully utilize the images is enormous. Dr. Page explained, "The immense data volumes produced by today's high-performance microscopes are driving the development of new methods to visualize the brain. We have developed this virtual reality system to reconstruct cellular level neuroanatomical data in 3D space. The system provides a practical solution to experience, analyze and quickly understand these exquisite, high-resolution images."

The images detailed at SfN2017 were even able to show the neuronal pathways right down to the dendritic spines which reach out of a neuron to pass along electrical and chemical signals throughout the brain. The team at Wyss has been able to combine the imaging of the COLM with data analysis tools to boil all the images and metadata down to something that is recognizable. While wearing the VR headsets, users have access to handheld digital pointers that can interact with the data in real time, allowing them to zoom in on structures, slice through some images and see the brain at work. In the future the team hopes the technology can be used in training surgeons, and developing neurotechnology. Take a look at the video below to see what it's like being inside the brain.

Sources: Wyss Center, University of Geneva, Terra Daily

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
MAY 11, 2018
Immunology
MAY 11, 2018
Successful Neural Stem Cell Therapy Without Immunosuppression
Neural stem cells designed to be identical to the host they were derived from are the newest hope for scientists in transplantation medicine, specifically
MAY 20, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
MAY 20, 2018
Gene Found to Help Prevent Brain Disease
Researchers are learning more about the mechanisms that underlie aberrant protein buildup in neurodegeneration.
MAY 24, 2018
Neuroscience
MAY 24, 2018
Can Brain Fold Patterns Predict Psychosis?
While it's a famous slogan and not meant to be taken verbatim, in neuroscience, it's often true that "Image is everything." A recent stud
JUN 06, 2018
Neuroscience
JUN 06, 2018
Brain Surgery Without A Scalpel
When you think of brain surgery, in addition to being incredibly intricate and delicate, scalpels and clamps and an OR come to mind. As it happens, there i
JUN 20, 2018
Neuroscience
JUN 20, 2018
How the Brain Works With an Audience
Many people get nervous when they have to speak in front of a crowd. Whether it's a business meeting or speech, getting up in front of a group can be d
JUN 20, 2018
Neuroscience
JUN 20, 2018
What is Neurodiversity?
Diversity is a term that might bring to mind groups of people in an organization that are different in some way. In the workplace, it typically means that
Loading Comments...