Around 50 million people have epilepsy worldwide, a third of whom do not respond to drug treatment. In many cases, it is advisable to perform surgery on the point in the brain where the seizures originate from, but first you have to find the exact location, which is a complex and time-consuming task. In order to improve this process, two UPF researchers are developing the prototype of a new computer program called BrainFocus, which makes it possible to find the epileptic focus more precisely and simply than conventional methods, saving up to 90% of the time.
The invention, protected by a patent, is the work of Manel Vila-Vidal and the co-director of his doctoral thesis, Adrià Tauste Campo. Both are researchers in the Computational Neuroscience Research Group at the Center for Brain and Cognition (CBC).
To find the epileptic focus in drug-resistant patients, they must be hospitalized for several days to monitor the electrical activity of their brain, especially during seizures. Upon admission, thanks to the implantation of up to 150 electrodes deep in the brain, neurologists obtain an enormous amount of data that they currently have to verify thoroughly to interpret the exact origin of each seizure, a task that requires many hours and a significant amount of training.
The BrainFocus program, however, automates the processing of this data quickly and accurately to identify the focus of the crisis. In addition, the software offers a graphical representation of the activity recorded by each implanted electrode so that physicians can see very detailed information at a glance and easily interpret it. These graphs allow neurologists to observe levels of activity imperceptible with current procedures.
A tool adapted to clinical needs
In recent years, other methods have been developed to identify the epileptic focus, but neurologists often do not use them due to their complexity. The UPF researchers aim to avoid this problem so that their program can have a clinical impact: “We have seen that many developments in the field of neuroscience do not reach society, but we want our tool to end up being useful, ”Tauste explains.
To achieve this, Vila-Vidal believes that “it is very important that the tool is adapted to the needs of the doctors who will use it, that it displays easily interpretable graphics and does not force them to modify their work protocols, but rather facilitates them “.
To this end, the researchers validated the algorithms on which BrainFocus is based with the help of doctors from the Hospital Clinic’s Epilepsy Monitoring Unit. They compared the results of BrainFocus with their own diagnoses of previously evaluated cases and their impressions were most positive.
According to Dr Antonio Donaire, coordinator of the EEG epilepsy monitoring unit at the hospital clinic, the program is “very useful in finding the epileptic focus, a task which is by no means easy to perform with precision when you have to interpret hundreds of electrodes “. .
“With the software, we were able to analyze data from six seizures in just 30 minutes, which was unthinkable until now,” adds Dr Mariam alKhawaja, a colleague neurologist trained in epilepsy with the same unit. For example, neurologists calculate that, thanks to the program, they can save up to 90% of the time spent examining the data.
Dr Donaire also points out that the new software was able to find information about the electrical activity of the brain in patients in whom it would have been “indistinguishable with the naked eye”. These benefits would be “a great help in planning a surgical intervention to treat drug-resistant epilepsy,” he says.
Presentation at the main conference on epilepsy
To introduce BrainFocus to society, from December 4 to 8, its promoters attended the American Epilepsy Society Congress, one of the most important events in the world dealing with the disease. “We participated because it is the global showcase of the sector and we explained to the representatives of the industry who we are, how the prototype that we have made works and why it is useful for doctors and patients”, summarizes Vila. -Vidal.
Over the next few months, the UPF researchers plan to validate the program changes with a larger number of users and obtain the licenses necessary to commercialize their invention within two years.
Researchers are developing the BrainFocus prototype thanks to funding obtained during the last call of the UPF INNOValora program, which supports proof of concept tests related to applied research at the UPF and is co-funded by the Generalitat (Government) of Catalonia and the Region European Development Fund (ERDF).
The project also received support from CaixaImpulse Validate, a program of the La Caixa Foundation in collaboration with Caixa Capital Risc and EIT Health, which promotes the transformation of scientific knowledge in the biomedical field into services, products and businesses. ”
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