30 August 2007

Neurofeedback: Will We Have to Wait for Video Games to Bring it to Us?

Will we have to wait for video games that incorporate neurofeedback, before this useful tool becomes commonplace and readily available?

The imaging company Omneuron wants to bring fMRI neurofeedback to the public, to aid in treating chronic pain.
But Dr. deCharms says that controlling pain is just one of many possible uses for fMRI feedback. Today, Omneuron is also researching treatments for addiction, depression and other psychological illnesses. In addition, he said. the company has contemplated “several dozen applications,” including the treatment of stroke and epilepsy. Brain scanning could even be used to improve athletic performance, he speculated.

Doctors and drug-abuse experts are particularly excited about the idea of treating addiction using fMRI. While scientists have talked about such an application since the technology was invented, Omneuron is the first to work on a real therapy. “We might have a tool to help control the inner sensation of craving,” said Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which helped fund Omneuron’s research into addiction.

A growing number of ventures hope to turn fMRI into a business. The most well-publicized is No Lie MRI, which wants to sell brain scanning to law firms and governmental bodies like police departments or security and intelligence agencies as a replacement for the notoriously unreliable polygraph test. No Lie MRI has already begun selling what it calls its truth verification technology for about $10,000 to individuals keen to prove their innocence.

But these companies have to get past government regulatory agencies first. But the government is not the only obstacle to the widespread use of the promising constellation of technologies referred to as neurofeedback. EEG neurofeedback has been around for decades, and the potentials for this therapeutic modality are still being nibbled at around the edges.
It's not unusual to walk into Desney Tan's Microsoft Research office and find him wearing a red and blue electroencephalography (EEG) cap, white wires cascading past his shoulders. Tan spends his days looking at a monitor, inspecting and modifying the mess of squiggles that approximate his brain's electrical activity. He is using algorithms to sort through and make sense of EEG data in hopes of turning electrodes into meaningful input devices for computers, as common as the mouse and keyboard.

The payoff, he says, will be technology that improves productivity in the workplace, enhances video-game play, and simplifies interactions with computers. Ultimately, Tan hopes to develop a mass-market EEG system consisting of a small number of electrodes that, affixed to a person's head, communicate wirelessly with software on a PC.

...Tan expects the technology to be used initially as a controller for video games, since gamers are accustomed to "strapping on new devices," he says. In fact, next year a company called Emotiv Systems, based in San Francisco, plans to offer an EEG product that controls certain aspects of video games. However, the company will not discuss the specifics of its technology, and there isn't widespread consensus on the feasibility and accuracy of the approach.

The true challenge, Tan says, will be to make EEG interfaces simple enough for the masses. He and his team are working on minimizing the number of electrodes, finding a semisolid material as an alternative to the conductive gel, and developing wireless electrodes. A mass-market product could be many years away. But if Tan succeeds, getting a computer to read your thoughts could be as easy as putting on a Bluetooth headset.

To keep up on some of the latest news on neurofeedback, check this link occasionally.

The EEG Spectrum newsletter comes out fairly regularly, and is another place to check for technology upgrades.

This link is another place for good information on neurofeedback.

Electroencephalography, magnetoencephalography, and real time fMRI, are different technologies that provide fast enough response for feedback purposes. Neurofeedback is vastly underused in Psychiatry, Psychology, Pain Control, recovery from brain injury, and other areas of medicine and mental health. Applications to sports training and personal coaching should be obvious.

A video search on Google Video, etc. will provide a large number of videos dealing with neurofeedback and other biofeedback technologies.

Certainly if you know anyone with disabling migraines, or with a child with ADD/ADHD, you should let them know about neurofeedback.

Sometimes it seems as if videogames and simulated worlds such as Second Life are driving a lot of business and technology in the real world. Neurofeedback may be yet another example of this.

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