Dutch researchers explore advanced brain diagnostic techniques

Dec 21, 2009

At present the task of diagnosing brain disorders using electroencephalography (EEG) is still performed by humans, but in years to come it will increasingly be taken over by computerized systems. This will then also enable us to monitor the brain better in critical situations, during surgery or in intensive care, said Michel van Putten upon his inauguration as Professor of Clinical Neurophysiology at the University of Twente, The Netherlands, on Thursday 10 December 2009.

Van Putten is a neurologist and clinical neurophysiologist at Medisch Spectrum Twente Hospital (MST). He specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy, strokes and chronic pain. EEG is an important "measuring instrument" in patients with these conditions. Around 200,000 EEGs are performed and evaluated by medical personnel every year in the Netherlands alone.

During these EEG monitoring procedures doctors will in future increasingly be assisted by computerized systems, says Van Putten. This will be made possible by technological advances in the fields of digitization, modelling and simulation. Eventually, computer models may even completely take over the final evaluation from the doctor. "This will allow EEG measurements to continue for much longer periods, even for several days. This sophisticated system will improve not only our ability to diagnose epilepsy but also the entire process of monitoring brain function in Intensive Care."

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Video 1: Development of generalized seizure activity in Kainate treated rat

EEG monitoring

Patients on the operating table or in intensive care run the risk of , especially as a result of problems with blood flow or epileptic activity. According to Van Putten, this risk is not always identified in time. "An EEG is ideal for monitoring , but it is virtually impossible for the medical personnel to interpret in the conventional manner. The assistance provided by new computer models is invaluable, especially if the measurements go on for several days. This is time that could otherwise be spent providing other forms of care."

Van Putten has developed several quantitative EEG techniques for the purposes of EEG monitoring, one of them being the Brain Symmetry Index. BSI extracts the essential data from an EEG and then converts it into a clear signal, or even into written text. An initial prototype is already undergoing evaluation in an intensive care setting. Further development of this technique will take place in close collaboration with MST and the University Medical Centre in Nijmegen.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Video 2: EEG dynamics during a generalized Seizure

Simulation

Van Putten is investigating two other methods besides EEG monitoring: simulation and modelling. "Both will have a major bearing on the development of new treatment methods. In the same way as the surgeon is now already able to practise on a virtual patient, we neurologists will also be able to start by simulating the treatment of a number of conditions in a patient-specific model. Take epilepsy, for example. The percentage of patients who cannot be effectively treated with medication has remained static at around 25% for several decades. And with these patients it is currently often difficult to predict whether and how they will respond to antiepileptic drugs. Consequently the therapeutic effects are hard to evaluate. Simulation and modelling enable us to do this more successfully."

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Video 3: Simulation, comparable to an epileptic seizure.

In addition, Van Putten is exploring a technique known as neuromodulation. "Neurons, the basic building blocks of the brain, can start to behave 'incorrectly' in the or spinal cord. Neuromodulation is then a fascinating technique for modifying this behaviour. Several diseases of the central nervous system have great need of such 'correction'. This applies not only to epilepsy, but also to pain, depression or Parkinson's disease. In some cases spectacular results are achieved through neuromodulation."

The Chair of Clinical at the University of Twente is unique, since all of the chairs established under that name hitherto have been attached to University Medical Centres. In the future, neurology and clinical neurophysiology will require increasing levels of technical input, emphasizes Van Putten. "The University of Twente is therefore responding to an urgent need with its Technical Medicine programme."

Explore further: Study links enzyme to autistic behaviors

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How to read brain activity?

Dec 04, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- For the very first time, scientists show what EEG can really tell us about how the brain functions.

Recommended for you

Study links enzyme to autistic behaviors

13 hours ago

Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is a genetic disorder that causes obsessive-compulsive and repetitive behaviors, and other behaviors on the autistic spectrum, as well as cognitive deficits. It is the most common ...

A new cause of mental disease?

18 hours ago

Astrocytes, the cells that make the background of the brain and support neurons, might be behind mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, according to new research by a Portuguese team from ...

Molecular basis of age-related memory loss explained

Jul 22, 2014

From telephone numbers to foreign vocabulary, our brains hold a seemingly endless supply of information. However, as we are getting older, our ability to learn and remember new things declines. A team of ...

The neurochemistry of addiction

Jul 22, 2014

We've all heard the term "addictive personality," and many of us know individuals who are consistently more likely to take the extra drink or pill that puts them over the edge. But the specific balance of ...

User comments : 0