A new kind of child-friendly brain scanner that could be used on toddlers as young as two could revolutionise the treatment of serious childhood disorders such as epilepsy and attention-deficit disorder, scientists said yesterday.

The £1.8m scanner will be designed like a space rocket to make treatment feel like an enjoyable fairground game, said Paul Furlong, professor of clinical neuroimaging at Aston University in Birmingham. Existing brain scanners are designed for adults, but the new scanner will not only be smaller, it will use a novel technique that analyses the minute magnetic fields emitted by the brain, Professor Furlong told the British Science Festival.

Very young children cannot be expected to remain perfectly still in a scanner for long periods, and cannot follow the instructions of the surgeon when patients are temporarily brought out of anaesthesia to answer questions about which area of their bodies they can feel in response to electrical stimulation of the brain.