Superconducting nanowire single-photon sensing of cerebral blood flow

Neurophotonics. 2021 Jul;8(3):035006. doi: 10.1117/1.NPh.8.3.035006. Epub 2021 Aug 19.


Significance: The ability of diffuse correlation spectroscopy (DCS) to measure cerebral blood flow (CBF) in humans is hindered by the low signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of the method. This limits the high acquisition rates needed to resolve dynamic flow changes and to optimally filter out large pulsatile oscillations and prevents the use of large source-detector separations ( 3 cm ), which are needed to achieve adequate brain sensitivity in most adult subjects. Aim: To substantially improve SNR, we have built a DCS device that operates at 1064 nm and uses superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors (SNSPD). Approach: We compared the performances of the SNSPD-DCS in humans with respect to a typical DCS system operating at 850 nm and using silicon single-photon avalanche diode detectors. Results: At a 25-mm separation, we detected 13 ± 6 times more photons and achieved an SNR gain of 16 ± 8 on the forehead of 11 subjects using the SNSPD-DCS as compared to typical DCS. At this separation, the SNSPD-DCS is able to detect a clean pulsatile flow signal at 20 Hz in all subjects. With the SNSPD-DCS, we also performed measurements at 35 mm, showing a lower scalp sensitivity of 31 ± 6 % with respect to the 48 ± 8 % scalp sensitivity at 25 mm for both the 850 and 1064 nm systems. Furthermore, we demonstrated blood flow responses to breath holding and hyperventilation tasks. Conclusions: While current commercial SNSPDs are expensive, bulky, and loud, they may allow for more robust measures of non-invasive cerebral perfusion in an intensive care setting.

Keywords: cerebral blood flow; diffuse correlation spectroscopy; pulsatile blood flow; superconducting nanowire detectors.