Understanding how a patient’s brain is affected by epilepsy may be easier now that researchers at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and colleagues have created a virtual brain, called Virtual Epileptic Patient, that integrates patient-specific information in virtual brain models.
The study, The Virtual Epileptic Patient: Individualized whole-brain models of epilepsy spread,” published in NeuroImage, says the virtual brain could help scientists understand how the disease works and may provide important informant to help physicians prepare for surgery.
Patients with epilepsy have heterogeneous brain manifestations that require personalized diagnosis and treatment that is difficult to achieve because the cause of the disease is unknown in most patients. In fact, though patients are often examined by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electroencephalogram, only about 50 percent show visible anomalies.
In the recent study, the research team developed a virtual brain template that can incorporate individual patient information: how the brain’s regions are organized and how they connect with each other; which regions are causing epileptic seizures (epileptogenic zone); and where MRI lesions are located in the brain.
Through mathematical models that reproduce cerebral activity in the virtual brain, the researchers can reproduce the area where epileptic seizures begin and can study how the seizures spread and grow. The model can then predict how seizures occur individually in each patient, furthering its diagnostic capability.
This tool may also be very valuable for surgeons. About 30 percent of epileptic patients do not respond to drugs which leaves surgical removal of the epileptogenic zone as the only therapeutic action. The virtual brain allows surgeons to identify the area to be surgically removed, study different surgical possibilities, analyze the consequences of each approach, and improve the success rates of surgical treatments.
Researchers expect the Virtual Epileptic Patient to help deliver personalized medicine for patients with brain conditions, by offering virtual but tailored therapeutic solutions for individual patients. Currently, they are attempting to demonstrate the predictive value of the model in clinical trials, and testing it for conditions that include stroke, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and other neurodegenerative diseases.