Vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature have revolutionized medical care by providing rapidly assessed, physiology-based, non-invasive and easy-to-understand standardized metrics of different body functions. However, no such vital sign exists for the brain; instead, assessments of the brain are largely reliant on surrogate measures such as observations of behaviour or questionnaire-based measurements, which have been shown to be subjective and unreliable. This research aims to fill this key scientific, clinical, and technological gap by developing a brainwave-based technology platform to evaluate ‘vital sign’ metrics for the brain. A series of studies were undertaken to create and demonstrate a ‘brain vital signs’ platform that is capable of assessing a broad spectrum of functions ranging from the lower-level functions (i.e. sensation) to the highest-level cognition domains (i.e. contextual orientation). In particular, the first study focused on development and initial demonstration of the methods and apparatus for the brain vital signs technology; the next study focused on characterizing the brain vital sign responses to ensure scientific validity; the third study focused on creating a previously non-existant neurophysiology-based neural marker capable of capturing contextual orientation – which is the highest level cognitive domain known to be crucial to frontline clinical assessments; and finally, the last study focused on developing an advanced data analytic technique for maximizing signal capture under noisy environments typical of point-of-care evaluation settings. This research represents the first time that a ‘vital sign’-like metric has been developed for the brain that embodies the key characteristics of existing vital signs, enabling brain function measures that are rapid (~5 minute testing time), easy to use, portable, non-invasive, and standardized with automated analysis. Crucially, these vital sign metrics directly measure the brain’s electrical activity and do not depend on any responses from the test participant, thus providing much more objective information about brain function. The development of portable and objective ‘vital sign’-like metrics for the brain not only advances the scientific understanding of brain function through novel metrics like orientation, but also creates significant opportunities for enhancing clinical diagnosis through improved brain function assessments at the point-of-care.
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Thesis advisor: D'Arcy, Ryan
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