x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Medical scanner to reveal how brain processes languages

State-of-the-art machine was purpose-built in Japan for NYUAD.

ABU DHABI // A state-of-the-art medical scanner will help scientists unveil the secrets of how the brain processes languages.

The magneto-encephalography machine, which was unveiled yesterday at the inauguration of New York University Abu Dhabi's Neuroscience of Language Laboratory, will be able to analyse language processes in the brain faster and more efficiently than current neuroscience technology.

It can help researchers further understand people with linguistic challenges, including those who develop speech impediments after a stroke or brain tumour.

The machine, custom-built for the university by Japan's Kanazawa Institute of Technology, is the first of its kind in the Gulf and one of only a handful in the world.

According to Dr Alec Marantz, a professor of linguistics and psychology at NYU New York, who will be leading the research team in Abu Dhabi, the non-invasive brain scanner is a breakthrough due to its high level of sensitivity.

"We are able to measure extremely small magnetic fields generated by the electric activity in the brain," said Dr Marantz.

The machine has 200 sensors inside an insulated casing that covers the head. The research team looks at the brain's electromagnetic activity while a subject is given language tasks.

David Poeppel, professor of psychology and neural science at NYU New York, said magneto-encephalography has a much higher time resolution than the current technology, functional magnetic resonance imaging, which monitors blood flow in the brain to detect activity.

"This machine gives us the chance to monitor the brain millisecond by millisecond, which is very exciting," he said.

molson@thenational.ae