2022 Business Innovation Award winner: Cerca Magnetics

Cerca Magnetics receives a Business Innovation Award for bringing to market the world’s first wearable magnetoencephalography scanner. The device measures human brain function in health and disease, providing unprecedented accuracy and unparalleled practicality.

 

 


Magnetoencephalography (MEG) measures the small magnetic fields generated by current flow through neuronal assemblies in the brain. Mathematical reconstruction of these fields enables generation of three-dimensional (3D) images showing how brain activity changes – moment-to-moment – as we carry out mental tasks. Using MEG, both healthy brain function and its breakdown in disease can be assessed. MEG is an extremely useful tool for neuroscience and outperforms the accepted clinical standard (electroencephalography). It is used in disorders like epilepsy for example, to pinpoint the brain regions responsible for seizures.

Existing MEG scanners are extremely limited because they use magnetic field sensors (superconducting quantum interference devices) that must be cryogenically cooled to -269 °C. This makes scanners large and cumbersome. The machine weighs around half a tonne and has a helmet into which the patient’s head is placed. Patients must remain still for long periods; the helmet is rigid (unable to adapt to different head sizes) and coverage is non-uniform, with systems poorly suited to children. Systems are also extremely expensive.

Innovative Physics' neutron detector technology

Cerca Magnetics has developed a fundamentally different MEG system. Exploiting novel quantum-technology, optically pumped magnetometers (OPMs) are used to measure the brain’s magnetic field without cryogenics. OPMs are small (like a Lego brick) and can be mounted in adaptable 3D-printed helmets that are worn by subjects. Sensors can be positioned very close to the scalp, meaning coverage is uniform, with improved sensitivity and spatial resolution. The system adapts readily to babies/children, and patients can move freely during a scan. The system is also much lower in cost than conventional MEG. Cerca Magnetics offers a complete integrated system, including a sensor array and helmet, alongside advanced electromagnetic shielding that is required to remove the influence of external magnetic fields. The system is in production, with multiple sales of complete systems and ancillary equipment making the company profitable in its first year of operations.

Magnetoencephalography (MEG) measures the small magnetic fields generated by current flow through neuronal assemblies in the brain. Mathematical reconstruction of these fields enables generation of three-dimensional (3D) images showing how brain activity changes – moment-to-moment – as we carry out mental tasks. Using MEG, both healthy brain function and its breakdown in disease can be assessed. MEG is an extremely useful tool for neuroscience and outperforms the accepted clinical standard (electroencephalography). It is used in disorders like epilepsy for example, to pinpoint the brain regions responsible for seizures.

Existing MEG scanners are extremely limited because they use magnetic field sensors (superconducting quantum interference devices) that must be cryogenically cooled to -269 °C. This makes scanners large and cumbersome. The machine weighs around half a tonne and has a helmet into which the patient’s head is placed. Patients must remain still for long periods; the helmet is rigid (unable to adapt to different head sizes) and coverage is non-uniform, with systems poorly suited to children. Systems are also extremely expensive.

Cerca Magnetics has developed a fundamentally different MEG system. Exploiting novel quantum-technology, optically pumped magnetometers (OPMs) are used to measure the brain’s magnetic field without cryogenics. OPMs are small (like a Lego brick) and can be mounted in adaptable 3D-printed helmets that are worn by subjects. Sensors can be positioned very close to the scalp, meaning coverage is uniform, with improved sensitivity and spatial resolution. The system adapts readily to babies/children, and patients can move freely during a scan. The system is also much lower in cost than conventional MEG. Cerca Magnetics offers a complete integrated system, including a sensor array and helmet, alongside advanced electromagnetic shielding that is required to remove the influence of external magnetic fields. The system is in production, with multiple sales of complete systems and ancillary equipment making the company profitable in its first year of operations.

Cerca Magnetics' wearable magnetoencephalography scanner

About the company

Cerca Magnetics is a start-up company that designs, builds and supplies biomagnetic imaging equipment. The company uses quantum technology and state-of-the-art field control to image human brain function. Cerca Magnetics was launched in late 2020, is backed by the University of Nottingham and Magnetic Shields Limited, and employs six staff in the UK.