Everyone is aware of the tremendous value an electrocardiogram conveys by giving a snapshot of cardiac activity. What if a similar tool could be used to assess brain function and allow quick detection of mental and neurological illness?

According to a Monash University biomedical engineer, a device to detect and compare the brain’s normal electrical activity against the distinct electrical patterns found in depression, schizophrenia and other central nervous system (CNS) disorders is right around the corner.

Brian Lithgow has developed electrovestibulography which is something akin to an ‘ECG for the mind.’ Patterns of electrical activity in the brain’s vestibular (or balance) system are measured against distinct response patterns found in mental disorders.

Working with psychiatry researchers at Monash University’s Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre (MAPrc) in Melbourne, Australia, he tested volunteers and found distinct response patterns, or “biomarkers,” that distinguished different CNS diseases from each other and from regular electrovestibular activity.

Monash has teamed up with corporate partner Neural Diagnostics to develop and patent electrovestibulography, or EVestG™. It is hoped the simple, quick and inexpensive screening process for CNS diseases will eventually become standard practice in hospitals around the world.

“The patient sits in a specially designed tilt chair that triggers electrical responses in their balance system. A gel-tipped electrode placed in the individual’s ear canal silences interfering noise so that these meaningful electrical responses are captured and recorded,” the Monash researcher said.

“The responses are then compared to the distinct biomarkers indicative of particular CNS disorders, allowing diagnosis to be made in under an hour.”

Neural Diagnostics CEO Dr. Roger Edwards said the implications of the new technique were huge.

“This could be one of the most significant inventions ever to come out of Monash. CNS disorders cost upwards of $2 trillion (U.S. dollars) globally and affect one in four people sometime in their lifetime. At present, diagnosing these conditions is done almost exclusively by qualitative measures, through questions and interviews, and it can take many years for sufferers to be correctly diagnosed,” Dr. Edwards said.

The technique is already attracting international interest and, if further testing goes to plan, it could be adopted in Australian and overseas hospitals within a few years.

“We are doing the necessary research and development and getting independent expert reports done, but results so far are cause for great optimism,” Dr. Edwards said.

MAPrc Director Professor Jayashri Kulkarni said, “Engineering and psychiatry are two disciplines that do not usually work together, but here at MAPrc, through our collaboration, we are at the forefront of translating biotechnology into clinical tools for psychiatric practice. While there is more work to be done, electrovestibulography could provide a major breakthrough in the diagnosis of mental illnesses.”

Source: Monash University