Photo/IllutrationProfessor Shigenori Kawabata shows magnetospinography equipment for use in trials at Tokyo Medical and Dental University in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward. (Taiki Koide)

A Japanese research team has developed trailblazing technology that allows for direct visualization of nerve activity in parts of the body outside the brain, paving the way for more accurate diagnosis of neural disorders.

Ricoh Co., Tokyo Medical and Dental University and the Kanazawa Institute of Technology said July 24 that preparations have been completed to commercialize magnetospinography technology for use in the diagnosis of neuralgia and other nerve conditions.

The first-of-its-kind medical equipment is expected to be released within two years, the team announced.

"We expect treatment precision to drastically improve by directly monitoring nerve activity," said Shigenori Kawabata, a specially appointed professor of spine surgery at Tokyo Medical and Dental University.

Magnetospinography uses a sensor to observe slight magnetic fields generated by electric signals in nerves responsible for bodily movement and conveying sensory information from limbs to the brain, according to the announcement.

The measured strengths and routes of neural signals can be visualized through graphs and other means.

Magnetospinography can be used for diagnosis of not only a sore back, disk herniation and spinal cord disorders, but also conditions associated with limb nerves, according to the researchers.

Through conventional methods, patients believed to be suffering from neural problems typically undergo MRI analysis to confirm diagnosis. However, this only allows doctors to estimate nerve activity, the scientists said.

Tokyo Medical and Dental University and the Kanazawa Institute of Technology in 1999 started developing the dedicated sensor and carrying out clinical trials of magnetospinography. Ricoh joined the project in 2014.

Looking to make the technology commercially available within two years, they are planning to release the equipment in Japan and the United States as an initial step.

If sales of the new medical device start as planned, it will be the world’s first product to monitor neural activity outside the brain, according to the researchers.