Some interesting work being done by Virginia Tech and University of Arizona research labs on using ultrasound (very high frequency sound waves) on the human brain to improve mood and heighten sensory performance.
Transcranial focused ultrasound (TFUS) is a non-invasive method to alter brain wave activity in particular regions of the brain.
The University of Arizona group applied TFUS to an area on the right side of the brain strongly linked to mood states, and found that TFUS could positively affect the mood of patients struggling with chronic pain. The U of A lab is already working with a Silicon Valley startup to commercialize their TFUS research.
The Virgina Tech team used ultrasound on the primary somatosensory cortex, which gives us humans and other primates very fine touch and sensory input from our hands:
It turns out that directing TFUS on the human sensory cortex *decreased* the strength of EEG signals in that brain region – which actually improved performance on standard neurological sensation tests.
This counterintuitive result initially surprised the Virginia Tech researchers, but they speculate that inhibiting brain activity by TFUS “turns down the volume” on EEG signals in the sensory cortex, which may allow for “cleaner” encoding of sensory signals.
Another non-invasive brain stimulation method that we have reported on before is transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS). TDCS devices are being tested for a wide range of applications, including therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, brain injury and stroke recovery, and major depression treatment.
A particularly attractive feature of TDCS and TFUS brain stimulation methods is the comparatively low cost and ease of use. There are already a few do-it-yourself kits for TDCS out in the wild, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the same for TFUS in the near future.
We live in interesting times for the brain!