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
AUG 20, 2021
Technology
"Gamified" Digital Therapeutic Helps Reduce Anxiety
AUG 20, 2021
"Gamified" Digital Therapeutic Helps Reduce Anxiety
Who said games can’t be therapeutic? According to a recent study published in Frontiers in Neurology, a gamified d ...
AUG 29, 2021
Cancer
Researchers Bioprint Deadly Brain Tumor with 3D Printer
AUG 29, 2021
Researchers Bioprint Deadly Brain Tumor with 3D Printer
Researchers have managed to print an entire active and viable glioblastoma tumor- the deadliest form of brain cancer- us ...
SEP 30, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
How Babies Look at Objects Linked to Future Autism Diagnoses
SEP 30, 2021
How Babies Look at Objects Linked to Future Autism Diagnoses
At nine months old, most babies have started moving around independently and are curiously exploring the exciting new wo ...
OCT 04, 2021
Neuroscience
People Prefer Deeper Conversations Over Small Talk with Strangers
OCT 04, 2021
People Prefer Deeper Conversations Over Small Talk with Strangers
Strangers may be more interested in having deeper conversations with you than you think. The corresponding research was ...
OCT 12, 2021
Immunology
Cancer Drug Helps Alzheimer's Mice Remember
OCT 12, 2021
Cancer Drug Helps Alzheimer's Mice Remember
What if a drug—specifically developed to treat one disease—had the potential to address other non-related co ...
OCT 14, 2021
Cannabis Sciences
Cannabis Use for Migraine Relief-New Horizons
OCT 14, 2021
Cannabis Use for Migraine Relief-New Horizons
Imagine having to leave a meeting or special occasion to go into a room, close the blinds, lie on the floor, and wait fo ...
Loading Comments...