Mapping brain’s electrical activity promises new hope for epilepsy treatment

Researchers from The University of Western Australia and Harvard Medical School have produced the world’s most detailed patient-specific model of the brain’s bioelectric activity, a ‘map’ it is hoped will be game changer for the treatment of neurological diseases such as epilepsy.

The results of the project, by researchers from the Intelligent Systems for Medicine Laboratory at UWA’s School of Engineering and the Computational Radiology Laboratory at Boston’s Children Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the US, have been published in the latest edition of Neuroimage.

Senior author, Professor Karol Miller, the world’s most frequently cited researcher in the area of biomechanics of the brain, said in cases where epilepsy was unresponsive to medications, alternative surgical treatments were an option if it could be determined where seizures started in the brain.

“To do this, the treating neurologist might use techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalography to map which parts or areas of the brain are responsible for generating abnormal electrical signals causing seizures,” Professor Miller said.

“If this doesn’t work, intracranial electrodes can be used to measure the electrical activity generated in the brain, which can be combined with numerical modelling to improve the accuracy of seizure onset zone localisation and epilepsy surgery planning.”

Working with Boston Children’s Hospital, the Intelligent Systems for Medicine Laboratory research team was able to develop their modelling and simulation techniques for “precise targeting” the epileptic seizure onset zones, which they hope will be able to be applied to millions of other epilepsy patients worldwide.

“Our detailed patient-specific model of the brain’s bioelectric activity helps resolve problems experienced by clinicians who are often unable to characterise epileptic activity of the brain and identify appropriate resection regions with sufficient accuracy to proceed with surgery,” Professor Miller said.

“We’re currently working on automating more of the modelling tasks so that we can further reduce the time needed to construct patient-specific models, which will allow neurology and neurosurgery teams create a surgical plan that will be safe and effective in controlling the epilepsy seizure activity.

“This is work that one day may be instrumental in changing the way that epilepsy, which doesn’t respond to medication, is treated in surgery.”

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