Hans' model shall reduce skull operations

Published Nov 11, 2014

Through simulation of how the brain reacts after a blow to the head, STH’s professor in Neuronics Hans von Holst hopes to reduce the amount of operations in the future.
– Since several thousand neurosurgical procedures are performed annually, this might be of great importance to a large amount of patients and their families, says Hans von Holst.

Hans von Holst

Age: 67 years

Family: Wife, three adult sons

Interests: Agriculture (has a farm), research, innovation, neurosurgery

On doing research at STH: It’s great. The problems I experience in neurosurgery we solve at STH, before sending the solutions back for clinical application. It’s neat.

About Neuronics

Neuroengineering is a high-technology specialty which is improved as technology advances. The research aims at, with interdisciplinary collaboration between engineers and surgeons, better understanding the consequences of certain diseases in the brain. With an increased knowledge, it will be easier to develop new treatments towards improved clinical application.

What is Neuronics?

– The science of certain technological applications in neurosurgery, Hans von Holst answers. The professor himself coined the term, a mixture between neurosurgery and mechanics.

Hans von Holst, professor in Neuronics. Photo: Staffan Larsson.

– The English word is neuroengineering. It’s something that is rapidly developing in the world and we are one of the first research groups to have launched it. With technological solutions we are trying to better understand various afflictions and how we shall be able to streamline neurosurgical treatment, he says.

It all started out in 1994, when Hans, who is a chief physician at the neurosurgical clinic at Karolinska Universitetssjukhuset Solna, was Head of Clinic and Head of Division. There were “technological problems” he wasn’t able to solve and he simply walked up to KTH Royal Institute of Technology to get some help. It led to the establishment of the research field Neuronics at STH.

Simulations that improve treatment

As a neurosurgeon, Hans von Hoslt performs operations on the brain and the spinal cord as a result of trauma, casualty, hemorrhage, tumors or malformations. He saw a need to simulate various afflictions to find an optimal treatment, and thus be able to improve the prognosis.

Today, the clinic-oriented research in Neuronics has, among other things, developed a mathematical model of the human head, brain and neck.

Patients, who come to the clinic after having had e.g. a blow to the head, go through a computed tomography scan of the brain.

Study of the brain without surgery

By using the CT image and digitally transferring it to a Finite Element model, researchers can study changes in terms of strain and tension, caused to the brain by the blow and the intercranial pressure, which has developed inside the skull bone. The prospect is to be able to find the areas that have been injured or affected by the trauma, without having to open up the skull bone.

– When you get hit in the head, the pressure in the head increases and the brain can’t fit. With this developed model of the brain, we will hopefully be able to avoid operating the patient to know when the pressure has reached above a certain limit. We then hope to be able to find new drugs, that can improve the patient’s condition and make such an operation superfluous, says Hans.

Estimates two years

The method, which has been developed in collaboration with Johnson Ho, Xiaogai Li and Svein Kleiven, is in its beginnings, but the model has begun to be tested for clinical applications. So far, it takes a long time to calculate how a blow has affected the patient’s brain, but in a couple of years, Hans believes the method should be ready for use in healthcare.

– Today it takes several hours, but in the future it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. It depends on how well we succeed to validate the model against clinical parameters, that  is how reliable it is. The method has to be refined. The difficulty is to obtain data that are comparable to reality, says Hans.

Sabina Fabrizi

Page responsible:Kenneth Carlsson
Belongs to: School of Engineering Sciences in Chemistry, Biotechnology and Health (CBH)
Last changed: Nov 11, 2014