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Science-Fiction Ideas For Pulsed Ultrasound

June 14, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Pulsed ultrasound may offer a way to diagnose and treat brain dysfunction without surgery, according to a team of scientists led by William “Jamie” Tyler, PhD, at the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences. But that’s only the beginning of the dizzying possibilities that the team sees for its techniques.

A summary of the research just published in the journal Neuron describes how the team used pulsed ultrasound to stimulate not only action potentials (nerve impulses) but also motor responses in the brains of mice—without any kind of surgery. In fact, said lead author Yusuf Tufail, pulsed ultrasound “elicits motor responses comparable to those only previously achieved with implanted electrodes and related techniques.”

He added: “It is fascinating to witness these effects firsthand.” Even more fascinating are some of the team’s other discoveries. Its experiments with deeper brain circuits revealed that ultrasound may be able to modify cognitive abilities.

“We were surprised to find that ultrasound activated brain waves in the hippocampus known as sharp-wave ripples,” Tufail was quoted as saying in an Arizona State news release. “These brain activity patterns are known to underlie certain behavioral states and the formation of memories.”

Dr. Tyler said he thinks ultrasound eventually may be able to enhance cognitive performance and possibly treat such cognitive disabilities as mental retardation and Alzheimer’s disease.

The technique appears to be safe; the team found that repeated low-intensity ultrasound had no negative effects on the mice.

Dr. Tyler thinks there may be mind-boggling applications beyond medicine and science. He envisions ultrasound as a core platform for future interfaces between brain and machine that could be used for gaming, entertainment, and communication. For example, he said:

Maybe the next generation of social entertainment networks will involve downloading customized information or experiences from personalized computer clouds while encoding them into the brain using ultrasound. I see no reason to rule out that possibility.

Wow. “To be honest,” Dr. Tyler said, “we simply don’t know yet how far we can push the envelope. That is why many refer to the brain as the last frontier. We still have a lot to learn.”

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