It's estimated that nearly 5.5 million people worldwide currently suffer from Alzheimer's, a deadly neuro-degenerative disease that has no cure. But, students and faculty at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering say they are making steps in the right direction.
Professor Solomon Diamond places a prototype cap on Paolo Giacometti, a P.H.D. engineering student. The hat, which Diamond and Giacometti created, looks like it came straight out of a sci-fi movie.
"This hopefully can be deployed world wide to study the brain on a large scale," Giacometti said.
More specifically, it is designed to research Alzheimer's and its symptoms of memory loss. One hypothesis for the disease is that it attacks the links, or couplings, between the neurological and blood functions of the brain. "We want to understand how the neuron function of the brain relates to the cerebral blood vessel, cerebral vascular function," Diamond said.
There is technology to measure both, but Diamond says its expensive and cumbersome. He says the hat they developed can read both neuro and vascular brain activity, and at a lower cost, Thereby making it much more accessible to patients.
"What I envision is that you will one day go into a clinic and the doctor will listen to your heart, check your lungs and put a device on your head to measure your brain health," Diamond said.
Right now the team is recording results and researching the connections between them, a process that this pair says has the potential to find out who is most at risk for Alzheimer's and what drugs are most effective at fighting it.
"Working on a project like this is not just to be locked in a library, but instead it is going to be deployed to society, hopefully in a very short time," Giacometti said. "It's great to be a part of something that will be actively helping people."
Diamond says that in about one to two years, the cap will be available on a mass scale for clinical research. However, he also says, it's not clear when patients will reap the benefits.
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