New technique to simplify the placement of electrodes in the brains

The plot quickens for neurosurgeons.

Rice University computational and applied mathematics students worked with Texas Medical Center doctors to develop a technique that simplifies the placement of electrodes in the brains of patients with epilepsy.From left, Dr. Nitin Tandon of UTHealth and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center,Rice seniors Alex Gardner, Evan Toler, Wendy Knight and Rice alumnus Kiefer Forseth, a researcher at UTHealth. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)
Rice University computational and applied mathematics students worked with Texas Medical Center doctors to develop a technique that simplifies the placement of electrodes in the brains of patients with epilepsy.From left, Dr. Nitin Tandon of UTHealth and Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center,Rice seniors Alex Gardner, Evan Toler, Wendy Knight and Rice alumnus Kiefer Forseth, a researcher at UTHealth. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

A team of Rice University computational and applied mathematics (CAAM) has devised a technique called BrainGuide, to simplify the placement of electrodes in the brains of patients with epilepsy. The technique is basically a software-based automation tool that neurosurgeons may use to assist patients with non-treatable types of the illness by plotting the right situation of tests inside their brains.

Alex Gardner said, “Doctors want to make sure they’re targeting the right part of the brain. They do that by implanting these long, thin probes that are lined with electrodes, which then record over the course of several weeks, and they gather data.”

“Our part of the problem was figuring out exactly where to put those. Doctors currently spend several hours planning each surgery individually. They look at all the data and based on their knowledge of what the brain looks like and the patient’s vasculature, the doctors decide what to do. We also need to avoid regions that are very dense and have a lot of blood in them.”

Dr. Nitin Tandon, a professor of neurosurgery at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and director of the epilepsy surgery programat Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, makes a point during a meeting with Rice University students who developed a technique to simplify the placement of electrodes in the brains of patients with epilepsy. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)
Dr. Nitin Tandon, a professor of neurosurgery at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and director of the epilepsy surgery programat Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, makes a point during a meeting with Rice University students who developed a technique to simplify the placement of electrodes in the brains of patients with epilepsy. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

Dr. Nitin Tandon, a professor of neurosurgery at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston said, “The hope is someday, when we’ve had enough of a patient cohort and refined this technique further, this could save us a lot of time.”

Data assembled by the tests can help outline future techniques in which the segment of the mind causing the seizures would then be able to be expelled, pulverized utilizing lasers or tweaked utilizing electrical incitement. The team further hopes to ease the burden on doctors who take the long way around when planning brain implants for a single patient before the initial operation.

Students used MRI and CT data from 40 of Tandon’s patients to build models of each brain and decide where the probes should go, working with Rice alumnus Kiefer Forseth, a researcher in Tandon’s lab whom Gardner said was instrumental in the BrainGuide design and implementation process.

Dr. Nitin Tandon, a professor of neurosurgery at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and director of the epilepsy surgery programat Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, holds an electrode of the type inserted into the brains of patients with epilepsy. Tandon mentored Rice University senior computer science students to develop a software-based automation tool that neurosurgeons may use to help patients with non-treatable forms of the disease by plotting the correct placement of probes. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)
Dr. Nitin Tandon, a professor of neurosurgery at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and director of the epilepsy surgery programat Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, holds an electrode of the type inserted into the brains of patients with epilepsy. Tandon mentored Rice University senior computer science students to develop a software-based automation tool that neurosurgeons may use to help patients with non-treatable forms of the disease by plotting the correct placement of probes. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

With the proper data, the students claim their program can predict optimum electrode implantation in about 30 seconds and with a higher degree of safety than previous methods.

Gardner said, “Each patient can have up to 256 electrodes on up to 20 probes – thin, plastic-encased wires that must not only avoid vessels but also cross the brain regions of epileptic interest. It’s ideal if we find trajectories that are perpendicular to the skull because they’re easier to screw and more likely to follow the trajectory that we prescribe. That weighs in almost as heavily as the vasculature does.”

The project now moves back to UTHealth for more validation.

Tandon said, “Obviously this work is a start, and there’s a lot more that needs to be done. What’s missing is that it is currently driven by what I have done before, which may not necessarily be what some other surgeon wants to do, so we want to create a template that works for any surgeon.”