£1.7m funding for wearable brain imaging system brings it closer to patient use

Tuesday, 21 February 2023

Wearable brain imaging technology, that can provide accurate measures of brain function in freely moving patients, has been awarded £1.7m to take it closer to approval for use in hospitals.

University of Nottingham spin-out company Cerca Magnetics along with National charity Young Epilepsy received £1.3M (70%) of the funding from Innovate UK with the remainder coming from Cerca Magnetics. The wearable OPM-MEG system was originally prototyped and tested at the University of Nottingham’s Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre – part of the School of Physics and Astronomy.

The cutting-edge technology has already been proved in a research setting. Young Epilepsy installed the UK’s first OPM-MEG system to its Health and Research Centre in Surrey in 2021 to improve how epilepsy is diagnosed and treated. The new technology is part of Young Epilepsy’s Diagnostic Suite that offers leading clinical neuroimaging technology in a comfortable and seamless environment for children and their families.

Clinical approval will allow the system to be used to provide doctors with fundamentally new information on debilitating neurological conditions like epilepsy, offering new hope to many people living with these conditions, particularly children and young people.

The University of Nottingham, Cerca Magnetics and Young Epilepsy in partnership with Colorado based atomic physics company QuSpin Inc., have pioneered the rapid development of this new type of brain scanner, which employs quantum technology to measure magnetic fields above the scalp. A process termed magnetoencephalography (MEG).

The system uses small LEGO-brick-sized optically pumped magnetometers (OPMs) to measure the brain magnetic field, these have been incorporated into a lightweight helmet that allows people to move freely during scaning. The innovative design means the system can be adapted to fit anyone, from newborns to adults, and sensors can be placed much closer to the head, dramatically enhancing data quality. OPM-MEG is also much cheaper than conventional MEG scanners, providing greater accessability for clinical institutions.

Matt Brookes researcher at the University of Nottingham
Clinical approval of wearable MEG will, for the first time, bring this amazing technology to bear on some of the greatest challenges facing 21st century healthcare. We know that conventional MEG is extremely valuable clinically, particularly in epilepsy, but is also impractical, expensive, and extremely hard to deploy. With its dramatically improved data quality and practicality, as well as lower cost, OPM-MEG will be game changing – particularly for infants and children.
Professor Matt Brookes, School of Physics and MEG lead at University of Nottingham

The funding will allow the team to create a data package that will support the development of the OPM-MEG system and gain clinical approval under EU MDR as a Type II B clinical device.

David Woolger, Director of Cerca Magnetics commented: “Since Cerca’s formation in July 2020 we have delivered a number of systems to the research market. This funding will enable us to fast track the clinical approval of our globally leading quantum enabled functional brain imaging technology. I am incredibly excited about the potential positive impact this technology could have on children suffering from debilitating neurological conditions. Innovate UK funded some of the initial development work of the prototype system, so we really appreciate the continued support. As a team we hope that this technology can have a positive impact globally whilst showcasing the UK’s cutting-edge research both in Lifesciences and Quantum technology.”

A sizeable programme of work is required to achieve regulatory approval which includes demonstrating the safety and efficacy of the system, laboratory scale experimental evaluation, and developing synthetic devices capable of testing. In vivo proof of concept in healthy individuals, showing that OPM-MEG can outperform the current state-of-the-art when used in humans, and demonstrating clinical utility and effectiveness via application in patients, with a primary target of demonstrating utility in young people with epilepsy.

Rosemarie Pardington, Director of Health, Research and Compliance and Young Epilepsy Deputy CEO explains: “This Innovate UK grant will allow us to move on the next exciting stage of development of the OPM-MEG system, by getting Medical Device Approval we will be able to work with clinicians across the country and significantly improve the diagnostics experience for children with epilepsy.

Around half of people diagnosed with epilepsy never learn the cause of it. This is concerning from both the personal and clinician perspective. The more we know about what causes someone’s epilepsy and how else the underlying cause is affecting an individual, the better clinicians can manage and treat it, and the better the patient may understand it themselves. OPM-MEG offers us a real solution into better understanding epilepsy, especially in children, thus improving the outcomes for their future.”

Work towards clinical approval is being supported by Professor Helen Cross, The Prince of Wales’s Chair of Childhood Epilepsy and Director UCL-Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, Honorary Consultant in Paediatric Neurology Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Foundation Trust. She commented: "This technology will widen the availability of MEG to many more children, who as yet are unable to gain access. The development of this system for clinical use will greatly enhance the assessment particularly of children with complex epilepsy."

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Matt Brookes on 

Jane Icke - Media Relations Manager Science
Phone: 0115 7486462

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

More news…

Media Relations - External Relations

The University of Nottingham
YANG Fujia Building
Jubilee Campus
Wollaton Road
Nottingham, NG8 1BB

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 5798