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Doctors listen as the brain speaks

University of Cincinnati biomedical engineers, neurologists and Mayfield Clinic brain surgeons are in the process of creating a sound map for the abnormal brain.

Deep inside the head, groups of neurons make sounds. The doctors will use the sounds to figure out what the problem areas are and how to better treat abnormalities in the brain.

If doctors can zero in on what each sounds means, they might be able to better help people suffering from Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, dystonia, depression, drug addiction, obesity, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

The hope is to refine deep brain stimulation (DBS) with better placement of the electrodes to alleviate symptoms and develop a smarter stimulator which can change the way it stimulates according to the sound.

During a UC-Mayfield study electrodes pick up the sounds in the human brain and doctors and scientists map them to create a model.

Deep Brain Stimulation is being resurrected in part by doctors and patients looking for more effective management of symptoms and side effects. Dr. George Mandybur, a Mayfield neurosurgeon and professor of neurosurgery at the UC College of Medicine, is trying to refine the listening technique that enables him to place the DBS in the right place.

"So it's like building a new stereo system,' Mandybur said. "Also you can hear the tones better to be able to decipher a little bit better."

One of Mandybur's colleagues in England has built an externalized system to listen to some of these brain sounds. When a listening electrode picks up certain sounds it changes the way it stimulates. It seems patients are having some success with this.

Mandybur says developing a model of the abnormal brain based on sound is still a few years away. A smart device would be even longer.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.