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An article posted by reports of a tiny wearable scanner that has been used to track chemical activity in the brains of unrestrained animals for the first time. The device was designed to be used with rats—the main animal model used by behavioral neuroscientists. But the researchers who developed the device, at Brookhaven National Laboratory, say it would be straightforward to engineer a similar device for people.

Positron emission tomography, or PET, is already broadly used in neuroscience research and in clinical treatment. It allows researchers to track the location of radioactively labeled neurotransmitters (the chemicals that carry signals between neurons) or drugs within the brain. PET has been used to map drug-binding sites in the brains of addicts and healthy people, and to study how those sites change over time and with therapy.

A conventional PET scanner is so large that these studies have to be performed with the subject lying inside a large tube. The new portable scanner is designed to provide the same information about brain chemistry while an animal behaves naturally. It is small and lightweight enough that a rat can carry it around on its head.

“[The rat] can move freely, interact with other animals, and at the same time we can make a 3-D map of, for example, dopamine receptors throughout the brain,” says David Schlyer, a senior scientist at Brookhaven who led the work.

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