In a new study Monday, researchers say they can now wirelessly record people’s brain activity throughout the day, a feat that could allow for better research into the brain’s internal function. They then used this data to adjust the treatment of people with Parkinson’s disease through deep brain stimulation. This is exciting progress, but some patients are worried about what it means to constantly monitor the brain at home for privacy.
Deep brain stimulation is when electrical signals are periodically sent to the brain through surgically implanted electrodes that are connected to a pacemaker-like device implanted just below the breast. The signals controlled by the device must counteract the intermittent brain activity associated with many neurological or psychiatric conditions, in theory helping to treat some of their symptoms. So far, deep brain stimulation is known to help people with Parkinson’s and other movement disorders or seizures, but it is also studied for treatment-resistant depression.
Deep brain stimulation can be a life-improving therapy for many, but scientists have been trying to improve its effectiveness for some time. For example, it can now take a long time and multiple hospital visits to refine doctors and patients. the correct level and timing of deep brain stimulation for the best relief of their symptoms, based on short-term indications of their brain activity. But scientists at the University of California, San Francisco were developing an adjustable form of treatment, one that sends stimulation only when deemed necessary, based on real-time recordings of brain activity.
Their latest research, published Monday at Nature Biotechnology shows that it’s now possible to keep track of someone brain activity for long periods of time they are white at home, enough they have a working wireless internet connection nearby.
The team builds on its previous research to create a new method for deep brain stimulation. Five volunteers with Parkinson’s disease suffered stimulation with a device specially designed to communicate (via radio frequencies) with another device worn externally. This device then regularly transmits its brain activity via Bluetooth to the tablet and data it was then uploaded to the cloud where researchers could observe it. The cloud server is designed to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal law that requires the protection of personal patient information stored online. Finally, this information was used to correct deep brain stimulation in people if necessary.
“This is the first device that allows continuous and direct wireless recording of the entire brain signal for many hours,” said study author Philip Starr, a UCSF researcher, in statement issued by the National Institutes of Health, which helped fund the study. “That means we can record the whole brain for a long time while people are busy with their daily lives.”
As important as this research is, researchers are aware of the potential ethical challenges that can arise when monitoring the brain at home.
“We had patients approach us with concerns about privacy,” Starr said. “Although we are not at the point where we can distinguish specific normal behavior from recording brain activity, this is an absolutely legitimate concern. We told patients to feel free to take off their wearables and turn off their brain recordings when engaging in activities they would like to keep in private. “
If this works deerContinuing to develop, one day it may help to identify the patient’s individual brain biomarkers for neurological diseasesallowing a deeper level of treatment customization this should provide better results. At the very least, home surveillance can confirm initial measurements made in a hospital without putting so much strain on patients. And in a broader sense, it can simply help scientists better understand how the brain works in general.