Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have been leveraging virtual reality (VR) technology to help them better understand how animals perceive space. Neurophysicist Mayank Mehta at UCLA has devoted his career to studying the brain, especially the cells in the region called the hippocampus, to better understand how the brain creates our perception of space and time. To help with this the use of immersive technology is allowing researchers to build better understands and data samples.
Human brains are able to process data at a faster rater than that of any super computer, rapidly constructing mental maps based on sensory inputs. This spatial memory is one of the first functions to deteriorate due to several neurological conditions including epilepsy and Alzhelmer’s disease. If scientists better understand how the hippocampus perceives space and time, they could have better diagnoses and treatment.
The use of animals to help with research is due to the fact that, as Mehta notes, all animals including humans: ““agree 100 percent on concepts of abstract space and time.” As animals calculate where they are in space in the same way else they bump into each other or objects around them, they make for ideal test subjects.
By using VR technology to carry out tests and provide controlled environments to see how the hippocampus works and process new data, allow for massive amounts of data to be studied. One of the tests include putting rats in a virtual maze and see how they handle the processing of the route to be able to escape and earn a reward. Rats have also been used for the testing as they use sight, sound and odor to navigate, which helps with their memory.
“VR breaks the laws of physics,” Mehta said. “It removes the consistent relationship between different stimuli in the world that all the animals have used for millions of years. This results in abnormal activity patterns in the brain.”
The work that Mehta and his team are carrying out could lead to some major improvements in both detection and treatment of epilepsy and Alzhelmer’s disease. VRFocus will be sure to bring you all the latest in the future so stay tuned for more.