This week's "The Scientist" contains several relevant articles for neurotechnology.
Here are the highlights:
1. Numbers on the Brain breaks down the public and private funding initiatives supporting the $60B neuroscience/pharmacology market.
2. Cutting Neurons Down to Size details the latest research into how and why connections among neurons go through a process of self-pruning in early child development. Neuroscientists have known about neural pruning for decades, where synaptic density peaks from ages 1 to 2, declines until age 16, and then levels off. Experts predict that sorting out how pruning works might eventually help in understanding epilepsy, neurodegenerative diseases, mental retardation, autism, and schizophrenia.
3. fMRI The Perfect Imperfect Instrument covers how most investigators rely on the fMRI method that uses a blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) contrast. The signal arises from changes in magnetic characteristics of blood related to differences in the relative amounts of oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin. Though many researchers correlate blood flow to neural activity, the connection hasn't been solidly determined.
4. Caution: Brain Working further deconstructs fMRI. This has important implications for cognitive related experiments that depend on fMRI. fMRI suffers from poor temporal resolution which means it is impossible to segregate the different stages of how during conversions words and their meaning are differentiated. For this reason, language experts like Peter Hagoort use fMRI in combination with electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) in his efforts to identify those stages.
5. It's Neuron's Time describes how scientists are taking the first stabs at answering at least one part of the question, how the brain perceives time. A recent University of Washington study was the first to document how neurons in primates track time from one instant to the next. Timing is a subject of increasing interest, because it's important in learning. Learning skilled movements, for instance, involves internalizing their sequences and timing.
The Take Away: All these articles show that we are suffering from a brain imaging bottleneck.
Peter Hagoort's quote sums it up nicely, "Many neuroscientists dream of a "more perfect" instrument, one that will combine the spatial sensitivity of fMRI with the millisecond temporal acuity of EEG or MEG, but it is difficult to predict what such an already rapidly changing technology will look like in 10 or 20 years."
That timing seems just about right to me.