Ultrasound Helmets Control Brain Activity

Scientists at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona are exploring the use of ultrasound to stimulate brain activity without the invasive procedures or internal implants required for current electrical stimulation methods. In addition to treatment of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease, they are exploring military applications of direct brain stimulation using ultrasound devices placed inside helmets worn by soldiers. The helmets could help improve and retain soldier alertness levels for extended periods of time, provide pain management assistance in the field, reduce stress, and protect against traumatic brain injury.
 An artist's rendering of ultrasound waves penetrating the brain. (Source: William Tyler)
An artist’s rendering of ultrasound waves penetrating the brain. (Source: William Tyler)

A team led by Dr. William Tyler, a neuroscientist at Arizona State University, has been exploring the use of ultrasound for non-invasive brain simulation for some time. Funding from the Army Research Laboratory and DARPA helped the group adopt their research for military applications. Their new transcranial pulsed ultrasound mechanism can target very specific regions of the brain as small as a few cubic millimeters and penetrate much deeper than traditional ultrasound. With current methods, these regions of the brain can only be stimulated using surgical procedures and implants running on battery power.

Prototypes of the transcranial pulsed ultrasound devices can fit inside helmets. Tyler’s team is working on improving the resolution of the ultrasound and on microcontrollers that would allow soldiers to trigger specific uses of the helmet with the flick of a switch. Much of the damage from traumatic brain injuries come from swelling and other aftereffects of the injuries rather than the injuries themselves. Immediate intervention before these side effects take hold could prevent much of the damage and greatly improve the survival rate and quality of life of injured soldiers.

Civilian uses of the technology include treatment of diseases like Huntington disease and Parkinson’s disease by specifically targeting very localize portions of damaged brain tissue. Tyler formed a company called Synsonix to explore the medical uses of transcranial pulsed ultrasound.

TFOT previously reported on another helmet designed to diagnose and treat concussions in soldiers, the Generation II HEADS helmet sensor. TFOT also reported on other new medical uses for ultrasound including a new type of brain surgery using high intensity ultrasound beams and a cancer treatment using ultrasound activated microbubbles.

Read more about the military applications of transcranial pulsed ultrasound in this Arizona State University news article and about its medical applications on the Synsonix technology page.