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Brain-scanning helmet helps track children in motion

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Scientists have used a modified bike helmet to create a device that can monitor brain activity in children in realtime.

The technology may eventually be used on patients with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and epilepsy, they reported Tuesday in Nature Communications.

Researchers inserted a wearable magnetoencephalography (MEG) device into a standard bike helmet, and successfully recorded the brain’s response to maternal touch in children aged two to five.

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With standard equipment, it is very difficult to scan children under the age of eight, said Matthew Brookes, who worked on the device and authored the report.

“This is because in younger children, their heads are too small to fit the scanner properly and that means loss of data quality,” he told AFP.

“In addition younger subjects tend to move more.”

The device is equipped with small, lightweight sensors that prevent the scan from being affected by head movement.

Children can wear replicas of the helmet while at home to reduce anxiety during the scanning, the researchers said.

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The technology isn’t limited to children.

Brookes and his colleagues used larger versions of the device to record brain activity on a teenager playing video games, and a 24-year-old playing the ukelele.

Brookes said his colleagues at University College London were working on the clinical use of the MEG device — including diagnosis and surgical mapping — for adults and children with epilepsy.

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He is hopeful that applications can be expanded to other conditions, such as brain injury, mental health and dementia.

“Obviously at the moment it remains nascent technology and is in the hands of clinical researchers. However, we hope that it will be used to scan patients within two to three years,” Brookes said.

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Image Oxford JR Hospital/AFP/File / HO


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Billionaires are now richer than 60 percent of the world’s population: report

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The world's billionaires have doubled in the past decade and are richer than 60 percent of the global population, the charity Oxfam said Monday.

It said poor women and girls were at the bottom of the scale, putting in "12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day," estimated to be worth at least $10.8 trillion a year.

"Our broken economies are lining the pockets of billionaires and big business at the expense of ordinary men and women. No wonder people are starting to question whether billionaires should even exist," Oxfam's India head Amitabh Behar said.

"The gap between rich and poor can't be resolved without deliberate inequality-busting policies," Behar said ahead of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, where he will represent Oxfam.

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Alcohol-infused gummy bears infuriating candy giant Haribo

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Ander Mendez and his friends were hoping they'd struck it rich when they came up with the idea of selling alcohol-infused gummy bears -- until they found themselves in the sights of sweet giant Haribo.

Now, these three Spaniards say they're afraid of being shut down by the German confectionery king, which is famed for its vast array of jelly sweets and was founded 100 years ago in the western city of Bonn.

In a not-so-sweetly worded legal letter, Haribo has accused their startup of infringing its trademarked little bear.

But these graduates from the northern Spanish port city of Bilbao insist they will carry on producing their "drunken gummy bears" -- "because people like them."

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Threatened and endangered species among the animals hard by Australia’s bushfires

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Australia's bushfires have burned more than half the known habitat of 100 threatened plants and animals, including 32 critically endangered species, the government said Monday.

Wildlife experts worry that more than a billion animals have perished in the unprecedented wave of bushfires that have ravaged eastern and southern Australia for months.

Twenty-eight people died in the blazes, which have swept through an area larger than Portugal.

Officials say it will take weeks to assess the exact toll as many fire grounds remain too dangerous to inspect.

But the government's Department of the Environment and Energy on Monday issued a preliminary list of threatened species of plants, animals and insects which have seen more than 10 percent of their known habitat affected.

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