Physical models of a patient’s brain help researchers treat neurological diseases and disorders – VCU News

Physical models of a patient’s brain help researchers treat neurological diseases and disorders – VCU News

Brain phantoms are a creative solution to a challenging question: How do you tune an electromagnetic field to a patient without testing it on the actual patient?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an application of electromagnetic research with the potential to change the way we treat migraines, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even conditions like schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease.

Ravi Hadmani, Ph.D., an associate professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering, leads a team of researchers seeking to use TMS to excite or inhibit brain neurons to alter specific brain functions and treat these conditions. The team includes VCU Health faculty, including Mark Baron, MD, professor of neurology, and Kathryn Holloway, MD, professor of neurosurgery, as well as outside collaborators such as Joan Camprodon, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

“The phantom brain is a first step,” says Hadimani. “Our ultimate goal is to 3D print a brain made with scaffolds of biomaterials and printed neurons that produce a stimulation response similar to the neurons in our brain. This model would behave more realistically than current brain phantoms. Our future work involves collaborating with researchers who can print lab-grown neurons on biomaterial scaffolds or researchers who directly fabricate artificial neurons on any scaffold.”

The coils used in TMS are responsible for generating the electromagnetic field used in the treatment. Individual coils are designed to treat specific conditions, but additional settings such as current strength, number of pulses, and coil direction are unique to each patient. It is not feasible to refine these settings in the real patient. Computer modeling is also inefficient because the creation of head models and the execution of simulations from MRI images of the complex structure of the brain are not spontaneous.

Hadimani and his team developed the phantom brain as a novel solution to this problem. In 2018, Hamzah Magsood, one of the Ph.D. of Hadimani, created the first model. students. The phantom brain is a physical model of a patient’s brain designed to specifications obtained from MRI scans. The materials used in the construction of the phantom brain are designed to replicate the electrical conductivity and electromagnetic permeability of different sectors of the brain.

The result is a representation that, when attached to electrodes, provides instant feedback to researchers calibrating TMS coils.

Elements of materials science, electromagnetism, and mechanical prototyping come together to create each phantom brain. The process begins with an MRI, which serves as a map for the researchers designing the custom model. This is a careful process. Unlike other areas of the body with clear distinguishing features, such as skin, muscle, and bone, the brain has subtle differences among its many regions.

Researchers must carefully distinguish between these areas to create an accurate brain phantom that simulates a patient’s skin and skull, as well as the brain’s gray and white matter.

A composite material of polymer and carbon nanotubes that exhibits electrical properties similar to the human brain is the basis of the phantom brain. Additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D printing, is used to create shells for different brain regions based on the patient’s MRI. This shell becomes a mold for the polymer solution and carbon nanotubes. Once the phantom brain takes shape inside the mold, it is placed inside a solution that dissolves the shell, leaving only the phantom brain. The conductive parts of the phantom brain are dark due to carbon nanotubes and the non-conductive parts are lighter in color.

The electrodes are easily inserted into the phantom brain and provide feedback when an electromagnetic field from the TMS coil is applied. Adjustments to strength, number of field pulses, and coil direction can be made prior to applying treatment to a patient.

Having recently received a patent for the phantom brain, Hadimani and Wesley Lohr, a biomedical engineering college student, put together the Phantom Realistic Anatomical Model (RAM). The pair have received the Commonwealth Commercialization Fund Award and the Commonwealth Cyber ​​Initiative Dreams to Reality Incubator Grant.

RAM Phantom’s goal is to commercialize brain phantom technology in the growing neuromodulation market, which also includes transcranial direct current stimulation and deep brain stimulation. The company will also help develop advanced brain models that more accurately simulate the properties of the human brain.