Brain scans that take place in confined spaces could eventually be a thing of the past. (Credit: iStock/@JohnnyGreig)

Researchers have proposed a solution to both clearly visualize and accurately assess the brain via photoacoustic imaging with a stretchable, flexible material. The researchers plan to build a prototype of a wearable scanner to advance the diagnosis and treatment of neurological issues through accessible testing.

Photoacoustic imaging sends near-infrared laser pulses into the brain, generating harmless heat that converts to ultrasonic waves. The proposed wearable scanner wraps a sensor securely around the head, increasing the surface area contact and delivering an acoustic signal strong enough to penetrate the skull. The researchers will integrate a photoacoustic imaging scanner into a stretchable, flexible head covering. The resulting device will be able to visualize the cerebral cortex of the brain, which facilitates perception, awareness, memory, language, consciousness and more, and deliver real-time imaging while a person performs tasks or answers questions.

The new technology could be used to detect brain injuries or developmental disorders in both children and adult patients, Jing said, in discussing some of the possible applications. And future iterations of the device may be applied to other areas of the body, such as the chest, to detect breast cancer.

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