NOV 20, 2017 5:01 AM PST

Getting Inside the Brain With Virtual Reality

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
NOV 24, 2020
Neuroscience
Computer Mouse Movements Predict Risk-Taking Behavior
NOV 24, 2020
Computer Mouse Movements Predict Risk-Taking Behavior
Researchers from Ohio State University have found a way to measure people’s appetite for risk-taking behavior from ...
DEC 03, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Oregon to Create Advisory Board for Psilocybin Mushroom Therapy
DEC 03, 2020
Oregon to Create Advisory Board for Psilocybin Mushroom Therapy
Last month, Oregon became the first state in the US to legalize psilocybin mushrooms as a therapeutic treatment. Now, th ...
FEB 06, 2021
Neuroscience
Chronic Depression Linked to Reduced Support Cell Function in Brain
FEB 06, 2021
Chronic Depression Linked to Reduced Support Cell Function in Brain
Researchers from Canada have found that people with chronic depression who ultimately commit suicide have significantly ...
FEB 17, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
How Psychiatric Disorders are Linked to Metabolic Dysfunction
FEB 17, 2021
How Psychiatric Disorders are Linked to Metabolic Dysfunction
It's not unusual for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder patients that take antipsychotic medications to rapidly gain wei ...
MAR 08, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
A Slowdown in Cells' Protein Construction Drives Huntington's
MAR 08, 2021
A Slowdown in Cells' Protein Construction Drives Huntington's
Huntington's disease begins with symptoms like movement and balance problems, weakness, and behavioral disturbances, and ...
MAR 30, 2021
Neuroscience
Prolonged Amygdala Activity Predicts Personal Wellbeing
MAR 30, 2021
Prolonged Amygdala Activity Predicts Personal Wellbeing
Researchers have found that activity in the amygdala (the emotional center of the brain) following exposure to negative ...
Loading Comments...