Division of Research and Development

The Division of Research and Development is designed to develop an approach for maintaining and improving the brain and mental health in a diverse and complex society from the standpoint of brain science, with the aim of maintaining and improving brain functions; cognitive neuroscience and psychology, with the aim of maintaining a healthy and tranquil state of mind at each aging stage; and philosophy, from which phenomenology and ethics provide a radical reconsideration of the concept of the “mind.”
This Division consists of following two departments.
The Department of Advanced Brain Science aims to research and develop techniques for maintaining and improving brain and mental health.
The Department of Biomedical Measurements aims to develop and to validate imaging and sensor technologies for human aging research.

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Department of Advanced Brain Science

To develop techniques for maintaining and improving the brain and mental health in a diverse and complicated society from the standpoint of cognitive neuroscience, we are focusing on the functions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in humans. The human PFC plays major roles in the higher cognitive functions necessary for maintaining a healthy social life. One particularly important function of the PFC is the executive function which involves planning, selection, and ongoing regulation of behavior.

Combined with recent neuroimaging techniques, cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and epidemiology, we will investigate how to develop the executive functions of healthy children, how to retain them in healthy adults, and how to improve them in community-dwelling seniors.

advanced brain science research

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Intervention Research

Although, most people become aware of their losses in cognitive functions when they are in their 60s, the age-related declines of a wide variety of cognitive measures begin around the ages of 20 or 30. Cognitive training is a solution to such an age-related cognitive decline, and is also beneficial for the maintenance of a healthy and tranquil state of mind at each aging stage.
Through advanced neuroscience research we will propose new, effective scientific evidence based on intervention methods for maintaining and improving cognitive functions, as well as for coping with mental stress.

Previously, we introduced a new cognitive intervention program for senile dementia, the concept of which was derived from knowledge of both brain science and clinical studies, named learning therapy (Kawashima et al., 2005).  Learning therapy has been developed to stimulate the cognitive functions of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. We prepared two tasks using arithmetic and the Japanese language, which included systematized basic problems in arithmetic and reading, respectively, for daily training. Both reading aloud and solving arithmetic problems require working memory, and this prefrontal stimulation leads to a positive transfer effect on other cognitive functions. A comparison between a randomly assigned intervention group and a control group revealed that, not only frontal functions, but also functions associated with communication and independence improved in the intervention group. We also showed the convincing and immediately beneficial effects a daily training program involving reading and arithmetic problems had on the processing speed and executive functions of healthy aged people.Such benefits were not directly tied to the intervention (Uchida & Kawashima, 2008).

intervention research1

We have been involved in joint research on the relationship between motorcycle riding and brain stimulation with Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. For this research project, we measured brain activity using portable near infrared topography (Advanced Research Laboratory, Hitachi , Ltd.) to confirm whether riding a motorcycle activates the PFC. Then we examined the effect of motorcycle operation as a part of lifestyle using a daily intervention study. We found, as predicted, that the bilateral PFC was activated during motorcycle riding, and that incorporating motorcycle riding into daily life has beneficial effects not only for improving various cognitive functions, but also for reducing mental stress.

intervention research2

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Entertainment and Smart Aging

The Tohoku University Entertainment and Smart Aging Platform was established in August 2009. We have been examining the relationship between entertainment and human aging, both rigorously from an academic viewpoint and enjoyably at the personal level. Entertainment here refers to all types of amusement, such as TV programs, movies, games, theatrical performances, and comic dialogues between two comedians.  These are indispensable for enriching our lives. The specific research questions addressed in this platform are as follows;

・How does entertainment affect our minds and bodies?
・Are our minds and bodies energized by consciously enjoying entertainment?
・Is it possible to create a totally new type of entertainment that can realize smart aging?
MORE→Tohoku University entertainment smart & aging platform

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Department of Biomedical Measurements

The Department of Biomedical Measurements aims to develop and to validate imaging and sensor technologies for measurements of aging-related physiological, morphological and/or biochemical changes which can help to elucidate the processes and mechanisms of human aging.

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Development of High Precision Imaging and Sensor Technologies

Ultrasound is well recognized as a safe and portable device for clinical imaging. Not only that, high frequency ultrasound has realized high precision imaging with the resolution of 10 microns. We have developed scanning acoustic microscopy to visualize acoustical properties that is closely correlated with biomechanical properties of the excised tissues or cultured cells. Recently, we applied the technology for assessing biomechanics of cartilage in order to clarify the development and regeneration of cartilage. We have newly developed acoustic impedance microscopy and 3D acoustic microscopy for in vivo imaging and clinical applications.

Instead of mechanical scan transducer, we have currently started the fabrication of high frequency ultrasound array transducer with international collaborations of universities and industries.

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Biomedical Engineering Evaluation of Skin Conditions

Human skin consists of three layers such as epidermis, dermis and subcutis. Among these layers, dermis is most important to maintain elasticity and flexibility of the skin. We have applied 3D acoustic microscopy to visualize fine structure of dermis such as microvessel, hair follicle and skin texture. Elastic properties of dermis depend on quality of collagen and elastin. With ultrasonic analysis of the very small vibration induced on the dermis, the elasticity of the dermis is quantitatively measured. We compared our imaging-based measurements with existing skin analysis methods such as water content, oil content, normal light / UV CCD camera and biomechanical measurement with analysis of force-displacement relation.

We are developing novel measurement devices for skin analysis. Ultrasound impedance meter based on ultrasound impedance microscopy is a compact small probe that measures the acoustic impedance of the skin which is strongly correlated with skin elasticity. We will start collaboration with plastic and aesthetic surgeons and cosmetic industries to achieve scientific base on the smart aging of the skin.

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Evaluation of Atherosclerosis in Large Population

Today, atherosclerosis is defined as the condition in which an artery wall thickens as the result of chronic inflammatory responses against low-density lipoproteins in the arterial wall. Classically, atherosclerosis is developed with human aging, thus easy diagnosis for large population is important for public health and welfare of the aging society. Popularization of clinically approved examinations such as carotid artery ultrasound or pulsed wave velocity measurement, we have developed an in-expensive mobile ultrasound device for refugee medicine or public health care. We have confirmed the ability for screening of deep vein thrombosis in Miyagi-Iwate inland earthquake. We have also confirmed the utility and image quality for carotid artery scan in screening of atherosclerosis in large population.

We believe that the mission of the university is not only research and education, but also social contribution. For that purpose, we will start the screening of the atherosclerosis as a part of the social health examination in Miyagi area in 2010.

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Collaborations of Aging Research and Imaging and Sensor Research

The development of the best measurements for aging-related physiological and functional changes requires development of a relationship among the aging research and imaging and sensor communities. As the researchers in this department also belong to Division of Biomedical Measurements and Diagnostics, Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering, Tohoku University, we would like to contribute to collaboration by introducing advanced measurement technologies in the engineering field to clinicians, aging researchers and industries. The imaging and sensor technologies are not only important for diagnosis but also facilitate an opportunity to test an intervention for a disease and stimulate a field of pharmacology and therapeutics.

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Department of Electromagnetic Neurophysiology

Our mission is to investigate brain physiology through electromagnetic measurement and stimulation, to develop the electromagnetic tools for research and medicine, and to promote clinical applications of electromagnetic neurophysiology. Here we describe four representative methods of electromagnetic neurophysiology: electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG), electrical brain stimulation, and magnetic brain stimulation.

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EEG

Brain neuronal currents can be measured electrically by EEG. EEG provides lots of information about normal brain function and abnormal activity related to disease. Scalp EEG is a common noninvasive technique, providing routine examinations for various types of brain diseases. However, the spatial resolution of scalp EEG is limited because of serious distortion effects caused by inhomogeneous head conductivity. For more accurate measurement of brain signals, intracranial electrodes can be used to perform corticography, brain surface EEG or electrocorticography (ECoG), and deep brain EEG or depth EEG. Intracranial EEG is indicated only for patients with specific diseases such as medically intractable epilepsy or brain tumors. However, intracranial EEG also provides unique opportunities to investigate human neurophysiology. Intracranial EEG can be measured intraoperatively, or extraoperatively using chronically implanted electrodes.

 

MEG

Brain neuronal currents can be magnetically measured by MEG. However, the MEG signal is extremely weak in the order of fT (femto tesla = 10-15 tesla), so measurement requires a specially designed magnetically shielded room and high sensitivity magnetic sensors called a superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID). Recent developments of low temperature technology have enabled construction of helmet-shaped MEG systems with multichannel SQUID sensor arrays. Despite the large-scale equipment, MEG provides higher spatial resolution than scalp EEG since MEG suffers far lower distortion effects caused by inhomogeneous head conductivity. MEG research in Tohoku University started in 1987, and many articles have been published on brain mapping of somatosensory, auditory, gustatory, visual, and language functions. We have also accelerated the diagnostic application of MEG for epilepsy and ischemic brain diseases. 

 

Electrotical Brain Stimulation

The brain can be electrically stimulated directly during surgery (intraoperative cortical stimulation), or using chronically implanted intracranial electrodes (extraoperative cortical stimulation). Intracranial stimulation is exclusively limited to preoperative brain mapping for patients with specific diseases such as medically intractable epilepsy or malignant brain tumors. However, modern neuroscience has greatly developed with clinical experience, illustrated by the famous human brain mapping pioneered by Wilder Penfield and his colleagues.

 

FIGURE 1. Facility for simultaneous recording of EEG and MEG

FIGURE 2. Combined analysis of scalp EEG and MEG to localize the source of epileptic spike discharges.

FIGURE 3. Example of language mapping using chronically implanted intracranial electrodes in a patient with medically intractable epilepsy (Tanji K, et al. 2005).

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