Everyone loves games. For eons the act of playing has facilitated our social and mental development. New research has even hinted at gaming as a potential anti-dementia device. Games aren’t just for fun; they’re good for our health.
(Photos by Cléon Daniels)
Most of our brain is cerebral cortex – our thinking mind – a highly folded surface of at least two and half thousand square centimeters. In the outer reaches alone, we lose a staggering 85 000 neurons per day. That’s well over 30 million every year. However, our brains are dynamic and their consistent depletion isn’t necessarily a disaster because they’re quite flexible. This ‘plasticity’ is inherent in the complex network of neurons that ramify the brain, the connections between which can alter. At the junction of two neurons, the more synapses between their contact points, the more evident the neural plasticity. A Label-Based Encephalic ROIs Template (ALBERT) is a Magnetic Resonance Imaging tool that monitors brain development in 3D helping scientists to visualise brain plasticity.
(Photo by Cléon Daniels)
ALBERT in NeuroPlastic Land, unlike Alice in Wonderland, borrows its name from a powerful imaging technology. Though like the fairytale story, it combines imagination with reality to invite the public to play. Elaine Ng (designer) and Ioannis Gousias (scientist) present the ancient Greek game, Triliza, in brightly coloured reflective lenticular plastic that responds to external stimuli. Inspired by the revelations of brain atlasing techniques their installation echoes the plasticity of the human brain.
(Photo by Cléon Daniels)
(Photo by David Nelson)
Ioannis is a Research Fellow at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre (Imperial College, London) funded by the Action Medical Research and the MRC. Combining brain atlasing with other techniques, he monitors the developing brain ‘network’ and its components throughout life. The aim is to create valid biomarkers of abnormal development or disease.
(Photo by David Nelson)
Elaine is currently taking the MA in Textile Futures at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. She combines nature with technology using shape memory material to explore how patterns can respond to changes in environmental conditions such as light intensity or mechanical force. To this end she’s interested in urban textiles and their responses to sun, wind and rain.
Science behind the design
Dr Ioannis Spyridon Gousias reveals the inspiration for ALBERT in NeuroPlastic Land
Three-dimensional atlases and databases of the brain at different ages facilitate the description of neuroanatomy and the monitoring of cerebral growth and development. Paediatric brain atlasing is a currently evolving imaging research field with a wide potential that is beginning to be unleashed. Defining a brain “atlas” as a detailed segmentation of the brain into anatomical regions-of-interest (ROIs), brain segmentation is challenging in young children and neonates due to structural differences compared to adults. Besides, the differences in the characteristics and the properties of the application of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in each age group have to be considered.
Conventional MR Imaging is a non-invasive and non-ionising technique and has widely proven its potential for identifying normal and pathologic brain morphology giving objective information about the structure of the neonatal brain during development, since it can be used repeatedly to trace the evolution of a given structure. Brain volumetric studies are able to identify subtle changes that cannot be evaluated by the standard clinical radiological approach.
Manual delineation is the “gold standard” in studies where brain segmentation of MR data sets is required. This can apply both to basic tissue classification and anatomical subdivision. However, it is expert dependent, observer demanding and time consuming, and essentially not scalable. Automated techniques are necessary to overcome these obstacles, especially when large cohorts of datasets are involved, and should approach the accuracy and the details captured with manual delineation. Nevertheless, A Label-Based with Encephalic ROIs Template (ALBERT), in other words a brain atlas, age-specific and manually constructed, can always prove its potential as a prior classifier in age-specific automatic brain segmentation.
The MR image intensities for newborn brains are significantly affected by both low contrast and RF inhomogeneity, which can be difficult to overcome without spatial prior information. Methods that use probabilistic brain atlases or templates for segmentation of healthy adult brain MRI cannot be directly applied to newborn brain MRI since the spatial prior information for rapidly changing myelination property would be very difficult to define. The white matter and gray matter contrast to noise ratio (CNR) for newborn MRI can be as low as half of the one for adult brain MRI. Contrast differences can also be seen in the MR images of neonates and older children. Factors that reduce CNR are the small size of the infant brains and the short scanning period. The small head size requires them to be scanned at higher resolution, which leads to higher noise levels. The infants need to be scanned in a very short time unless they are sedated or constrained. The low CNR causes difficulty in segmenting partial volume regions. One further challenge is that the dividing boundaries between regions that are fully myelinated and non-myelinated are generally ambiguous.
Most studies on neonatal brain segmentation deal with tissue segmentation of cortical GM, subcortical GM, unmyelinated WM, myelinated WM and ventricular space. There are a number of studies that pursue further segmentation of the cortical GM into a small number of regions. However, these segmentations are not based on detailed delineation protocols and do not utilize the full potential of anatomical landmarks as boundary indicators. In order to obtain atlases based on MRIs with characteristics closer to the target group, I have built a database of neonatal ALBERTs which are used as priors for automatic neonatal brain atlasing. These atlases can be used as normal references for assessment of clinically acquired scans and for monitoring developmental changes in the brain. In addition, they can be a useful tool in the monitoring of neuroplasticity, cortical foldings, myelination patterns and developmental growth of different brain regions in longitudinal studies and in group comparisons between normal controls and pathological cases of the same age. They can be combined with functional imaging to determine which anatomical regions are involved in a response in a functional experiment. Finally, they can be used to assess the effectiveness of treatments.