Fiber-optic pen helps see inside brains of children with learning disabilities

Fiber-optic pen helps see inside brains of children with learning disabilities

For less than $100, researchers have designed a computer-interfaced drawing pad that helps scientists see inside the brains of children with learning disabilities while they read and write.

via ScienceDaily: Top Health News:

June 18, 2013 — For less than $100, University of Washington researchers have designed a computer-interfaced drawing pad that helps scientists see inside the brains of children with learning disabilities while they read and write.The device and research using it to study the brain patterns of children will be presented June 18 at the Organization for Human Brain Mapping meeting in Seattle. A paper describing the tool, developed by the UW’s Center on Human Development and Disability, was published this spring in Sensors, an online open-access journal. “Scientists needed a tool that allows them to see in real time what a person is writing while the scanning is going on in the brain,” said Thomas Lewis, director of the center’s Instrument Development Laboratory. “We knew that fiber optics were an appropriate tool. The question was, how can you use a fiber-optic device to track handwriting?”To create the system, Lewis and fellow engineers Frederick Reitz and Kelvin Wu hollowed out a ballpoint pen and inserted two optical fibers that connect to a light-tight box in an adjacent control room where the pen’s movement is recorded. They also created a simple wooden square pad to hold a piece of paper printed with continuously varying color gradients. The custom pen and pad allow researchers to record handwriting during functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to assess behavior and brain function at the same time.Other researchers have developed fMRI-compatible writing devices, but “I think it does something similar for a tenth of the cost,” Reitz said of the UW system. By using supplies already found in most labs (such as a computer), the rest of the supplies — pen, fiber optics, wooden pad and printed paper — cost less than $100.The device connects to a computer with software that records every aspect of the handwriting, from stroke order to speed, hesitations and liftoffs. Understanding how these physical patterns correlate with a child’s brain patterns can help scientists understand the neural connections involved.Researchers studied 11- and 14-year-olds with either dyslexia or dysgraphia, a handwriting and letter-processing disorder, as well as children without learning disabilities. Subjects looked at printed directions on a screen while their heads were inside the fMRI scanner. …

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ScienceDaily: Top Health News

Fiber-optic pen helps see inside brains of children with learning disabilities

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