New software that creates dynamic, real-time, three-dimensional colour movies of the brain has been written by a team of doctors.
"We usually think of cameras as looking out at the world. This is a new kind of camera. It gives you a window on your mind," the Globe and Mail quoted Mark Doidge, from Toronto, as saying.
The "camera" adapts an algorithm known as eLORETA, amplifies EEG signals from 32 electrodes attached to the cerebral cortex, and converts them into colour-coded movies of neuronal activity.
The algorithm infers and maps where electrical events are occurring. The movie can then be watched in real time, recorded and played back on computer screens.
Another advantage of the software, co-created by Joseph Mocanu, is speed. Dubbed dynamic electrical cortical imaging (DECI), it takes visual impressions less than 1/1,000 of a second apart - in virtual real-time.
If its functionality is proven by studies, the software could have far-reaching implications for diagnosis and treatment of pain, sleep and other behavioural disorders, as well as neurological diseases and dementias.
"Certainly we need clinical studies. But I do think we have advanced the science. And it's only going to get better," said Doidge.
Some neuroscientists are wary.
Aaron Newman, a neurologist at Dalhousie University's Neuroscience Institute, said algorithms used to localize the sources of EEG signals "are often unreliable in their accuracy."
In general, said Newman, localizing EEG signals is a "problem fundamentally ill-posed in the language of mathematics and physics."
The first real test will likely come at Toronto Western Hospital's sleep clinic - a clinical study to help determine what makes sleep restorative.
"There's a debate in the medical literature about whether deep sleep - delta waves - consists of one stage or two," explained Toronto psychiatrist Colin Shapiro.
"By showing whether those waves originate from the same or different places in the brain, we could potentially make that determination. If there's a difference in location, you're going to think there's a difference in function. And I know of no other technique that could potentially set that apart."