2nd May 2013, 10:52am
Investment in new technology to advance understanding of neurological disorders
The fTCD machine in use Scientists at the University of Lincoln have invested in new equipment that will help them to better understand how the human brain is affected by illnesses such as epilepsy and stroke.

The new research tool, known as a Functional Transcranial Doppler Ultrasonography (fTCD) Scanner, has been installed in Lincoln's School of Psychology, where it will be used in studies aimed at understanding common neurological disorders.

The fTCD machine analyses patterns of blood flow within the brain, enabling researchers to make accurate assessments about which areas of the brain used in certain cognitive tasks, such as speech, language comprehension and motor control.

Cognitive neuroscientists in Lincoln's School of Psychology will use the technology to advance their studies into 'functional lateralisation': how the left and right hemispheres of the brain contribute to different aspects of cognitive function, and how this varies across different groups of people.

This research is particularly relevant for people being treated for neurological disorders such as stroke, epilepsy or brain tumours. Hundreds of thousands of people across the UK are affected by these types of illness each year.

At present, when clinicians are considering surgery as part of a programme of treatment, they tend to rely on invasive procedures to make pre-surgery assessments about brain function. With further research, fTCD has the potential to offer a non-invasive alternative to these tests, which are crucial to ensuring healthy parts of the brain are not damaged in surgery.

Dr John Hudson from the School of Psychology at the University of Lincoln said:  "The uses of Transcranial Doppler are well-established in clinical practice, where one of its main applications is the detection of abnormal blood circulation in those at risk of strokes. However, it is relatively underused in neuropsychological imaging research. This is beginning to change, as the advantages of the TCD equipment are starting to be recognised.
"The equipment is portable and therefore can be used in settings outside of research laboratories, such as homes, schools or clinics, making it ideal for research with children or elderly participants. It is also a non-invasive technology which does not use radiation, meaning it is suitable for all groups of people, including those who would not be eligible for other forms of neuroimaging procedure."

The technology works using ultrasonography (high frequency sound waves) to obtain a measurement of the speed and direction of blood flow within the main arteries of the brain. The sound waves, which cannot be heard by the human ear, are emitted from sensors placed at each side of the head, and the time it takes for those waves to be reflected back to the sensors is measured and analysed. The results enable scientists to build a picture of what areas of the brain were activated during a cognitive task. This type of research is helping to inform theories about brain organisation and advance understanding of the relative difference between the brain's hemispheres.

The Transcranial Doppler equipment cost around 17,000 and has been funded through a grant from the Hessle Epilepsy Society. The grant was awarded to Dr Hudson, who in conjunction with Dr Kenneth Flowers of the University of Hull, has an on-going research programme into language lateralisation in epilepsy patients.

If you would like to take part in research with fTCD or would like to find out more about the technology, then please contact the research team in Lincoln's School of Psychology via the website: http://tcdlab.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/
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