The Virtual Brain sculpture and Randy McIntosh headshot

Brain-mapping platform, the Virtual Brain, used to help predict the effects of epilepsy

The Virtual Brain, an international brain-mapping platform co-created by Baycrest, is one step closer to being used by doctors to provide personalized treatments based on brain simulations.

One of the Virtual Brain’s co-founders, Dr. Viktor Jirsa, Director of the System Neuroscience Institute at Aix-Marseille University in France, led a research team that successfully used the platform to create a simulation demonstrating epilepsy’s impact on the human brain. This work is able to predict how epilepsy seizures start and spread within the brain, which could help doctors identify where to intervene during surgery, reducing the risk of adverse events.

Epilepsy is a chronic brain disorder that causes frequent seizures triggered by a number of events. It is typically treated with long-term drug therapy, but that does not provide a cure and can lead to severe side effects. Thirty per cent of epilepsy patients are resistant to medication or diet therapy, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. In these cases, brain surgery is the only alternative, but the ideal candidates have seizures limited to an area of the brain where the brain tissue can be safely removed without damaging a person’s personality or functionality.

Dr. Jirsa will share details of the breakthrough at the upcoming 2017 Rotman Research Institute (RRI) Conference: Neural Dynamics and Brain Health on March 21 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. A number of other Virtual Brain collaborators will also present their progress in creating similar simulations for other brain disorders, such as dementia and stroke, at the two-day conference, which aims to bring together researchers with basic and translational scientific expertise to discuss cutting-edge research on basic neural mechanisms.

The Virtual Brain is a unique, open-source modelling platform that captures intricate details of the brain’s structure and function through the collection of imaging data. The platform was built by an international team led by Baycrest and will help clinicians detect different types of dementia and brain diseases earlier, and give doctors the ability to test potential treatments before prescribing them to patients. The Virtual Brain involves researchers from 12 sites across three continents.

“This is the first time we have used the Virtual Brain to showcase how epilepsy seizures spread in the brain,” says Dr. Jirsa. “Epilepsy affects each person differently and this simulation accounts for that by incorporating specific data from individual patients. The next step is to test these predictions within a clinical setting.”

The Virtual Brain created the epilepsy simulation with the brain scans of a patient diagnosed with bitemporal lobe epilepsy, one of the most common forms of the disorder. The simulations were created by combining brain scans with mathematical algorithms for epileptic seizures.

“Members of The Virtual Brain Team are all working on the same platform, but tackling different brain disorders,” says Dr. Randy McIntosh (pictured above) co-founder of The Virtual Brain, Vice President of Research at Baycrest and Director of the RRI. “Baycrest aims to create similar simulations that predict the start and spread of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. We also continue to explore potential partnership opportunities to improve the platform’s accessibility among physicians and bring it into clinical care. Our goal is to have health professionals adopt The Virtual Brain platform and use it to improve care for patients.”

Each day in Canada, an average of 42 people learn that they have epilepsy and in about half of those diagnosed, the cause is unknown, according to Epilepsy Canada.

Support for the project was provided by the James S. McDonnell Foundation, Ontario Innovation Trust, the Max Glassman Foundation and the Weston Brain Foundation.

With additional funding, The Virtual Brain at Baycrest could speed up the input and analysis of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients into the platform.  

The Virtual Brain is akin to decoding the human genome and we are closer than ever to accomplishing monumental medical-science breakthroughs. Support our scientists’ work by donating online or calling the donations line at 416-785-2875.

About Baycrest Health Sciences

Headquartered on a 23-acre campus and fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, Baycrest Health Sciences combines a unique holistic healthcare approach for aging adults with one of the world’s top brain research institutes (the Rotman Research Institute). Baycrest is home to the federally and provincially-funded Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation, a solution accelerator focused on driving innovation in the aging and brain health sector, and the developer of a free online memory assessment, Cogniciti, for Canadians 40+ who are concerned about their memory.  As a hospital with exemplary standing, practitioners and researchers at Baycrest work towards revolutionizing the aging experience. Baycrest is a recognized leader in offering unique hands-on opportunities to help train the next generation of healthcare professionals.

About Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute

The Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences is a premier international centre for the study of human brain function. Through generous support from private donors and funding agencies, the institute is helping to illuminate the causes of cognitive decline in seniors, identify promising approaches to treatment, and lifestyle practices that will protect brain health longer in the lifespan.

For media inquiries:
Jonathan MacIndoe
Baycrest Health Sciences
416-785-2500 ext. 6579
jmacindoe@baycrest.org