$100 might not get you far in the medical device industry, but for even less researchers at the University of Washington have managed to develop a tool that will let them see inside the brains of children with learning disabilities while they read and write.
The tool is a fiber-optic pen that is used with a sheet of paper specially printed with varying color gradients. Made from a standard, hollowed-out ballpoint pen, fiber optic cables, and a wooden block, the system is used in conjunction with functional MRI (fMRI) to image the brain in real time as a person uses the pen to write on the paper. Using an attached computer, the system can record every aspect of one’s handwriting, such as stroke order and speed, and even hesitations and liftoffs. This information helps scientists see how physical patterns correlate with neural patterns in the brains of children with learning disabilities.
When scientists had both children with dyslexia and dysgraphia and children without learning disorders perform various writing tasks using the fiber-optic pen, they came across some interesting results. First, they found that merely thinking about writing causes many of the same brain responses as writing itself. Also, they discovered many new neural centers and pathways that are activated while writing.
Researchers hope that these successes will also allow them to soon use the pen and pad to study neurological and mental diseases in adults.
Journal article (PDF): A Low-Cost, Computer-Interfaced Drawing Pad for fMRI Studies of Dysgraphia and Dyslexia
Article from the University of Washington: Fiber-optic pen helps see inside brains of children with learning disabilities