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Cerca Magnetics uses Optitrack Camera System to Improve Brain Scanning in Children

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

The University of Nottingham is a beacon of excellence in precision imaging and are world leaders in neuroimaging. Sir Peter Mansfield, from The University of Nottingham, earned a Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for his role in the development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in the seventies. Researchers from the University at the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre (SPMIC) have been involved in research into Magnetoencephalography (MEG), a technique to measure brain activity. Alongside QuSpin in the USA, they have been developing the next generation of quantum-enabled sensors for use with MEG.


A more familiar method of measuring signals from the brain is the electroencephalogram (EEG), which involves electrodes being placed on to the scalp. Whilst this way of testing has brought huge benefits, it’s not without issues. The skull can distort the electrical signals from the brain, so source localisation - i.e. knowing which part of the brain is causing abnormalities - is very difficult. An EEG can locate the approximate region, for example allowing surgeons to cut a piece of the skull out, insert electrodes into the brain to localise the tiny section to remove. But, that is obviously very invasive so the need for new, more accurate tech is coveted.

A traditional MEG scanner

An MEG measures the magnetic fields given off by the same electrical signals of the brain. The main benefit of MEG is that the magnetic field signals do not get distorted by the skull. In theory, an MEG can better localise areas of abnormality.


However, traditional MEG scanners are big and heavy making them daunting, particularly for children. They also require the patient to sit completely still for up to 20 or 30 minutes - even a 5 mm movement could ruin the whole data.




Researchers at SPMIC began developing MEG technology and, in 2016, started looking at what would happen if you took sensors from the helmet right on to the scalp. How would this improve the sensitivity and localisation? Theoretically they found this to be a 5 times improvement.

Molly demonstrating the new helmet with sensors

To accurately measure brain signals the environment surrounding the patient needs to be completely interference free. In parallel to the university’s research, Magnetic Shields Limited were developing shielded rooms specifically for this application.


A partnership between The University of Nottingham and Magnetic Shields Limited was born from the decision to commercialise the entire system as one product. Research groups would no longer have to buy a shielded room from one supplier, source the sensors elsewhere, write their own software and then figure out how to integrate it; Cerca Magnetics was created to offer a fully-integrated MEG system.

Formed two years ago, Cerca was able to streamline the process and reduce costs of a system that allows patients to move naturally while being scanned, offering higher sensitivity and better spatial precision. Tests have shown data gathered while a participant learns how to play a musical instrument, and from two people scanned simultaneously whilst playing ping pong.


A system is currently in place at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, where it’s currently being used on healthy children with a future plan to utilise it for sibling research into autism.

The second system has been installed at UK charity Young Epilepsy. The image above allows us to see inside their shielded room where a child dummy is seated in a 3D-printed patient support chair, wearing a 3D-printed helmet. Optical tracking markers and sensors are placed on the helmet and 4 x Optitrack Flex13 cameras are placed in each of the four corners of the room. Cerca’s CAD model of the helmet with the position of the markers related to the sensors, which relate to the head, allows a co-registration set up. The Optitrack Prime Flex13 system, supplied by Target3D, are used to accurately map the movements, making them a critical component in achieving accurate MEG data. Young Epilepsy is helping Cerca to gain clinical approval for the system to be used in hospitals.

System at Boys Town National Research Hospital

Recently, a third system has been installed in the Institute of Human Neuroscience at Boys Town National Research Hospital in Nebraska, USA. They will initially be using the system to look at neurodevelopment of children under 12 months of age.


Eliot Dawson, Operations Manager for Cerca Magnetics shares, “Our experience with Target 3D has been great so far. We have found the Optitrack cameras to be very high quality in terms of both construction and performance, and they are really easy to work with. T3D have offered really good customer support, putting in a lot of time to ensure we get the right solution. We are therefore looking forward to working with them on our upcoming projects.”

Find out more about Cerca here.

Read the full research paper here For motion tracking technology, including Optitrack systems, speak to Target3D.

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