Getting Inside Your Own Head

Hand on a virtual interface of futuristic medical technology showing a brain scan.

Oct 25, 2017

Mary Lou Jepsen is a former Facebook executive who wants to know what’s going on inside our bodies. Her inspiration for a wearable, pocket-sized MRI device hits as close to home as possible.

Jepsen was diagnosed with a brain tumor as a graduate student, which wasn’t discovered until she complained to a doctor about excruciating headaches. This complaint led to an incredibly expensive MRI that found the source of her pain. While her tumor was caught in time to be treated, the somewhat exclusive nature of these capabilities seems to have stuck with her.

MRI machines can cost hospitals and medical clinics as much as $3 million, which leads to charges that can exceed $2,500 per test. Even with good medical insurance, these tests can be taxing – financially and psychologically.

Although the actual technology is in its infancy, Jepsen stepped down from her position as director of engineering at Facebook’s Oculus unit, which is focused on virtual reality technology, to lead the work on this new project. 

While MRIs use radio waves and magnets to create pictures of organs and structures inside the body, Jepsen's new tool will rely on near-infrared light to accomplish these tasks. This wavelength of light is capable of penetrating cells and making a distinction between oxygenated blood flowing away from the heart and blood flowing towards the heart that has not been oxygenated - because they have different colors. This differentiation helps isolate possible tumor locations.

Her preliminary results promise internal body imagery that is easier to decipher, which could help both patients and medical professionals get a much clearer look at the inner workings of the body. Ideally, this leads to quicker treatments and lower medical bills.