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Unique approach shows the way to new treatment methods for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease

A common factor for such diseases as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s is that the brain’s signals do not reach their target cells. Researchers at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology are the first in Europe to take this on by simulating the brain’s communication between areas to be able to correct the problem.

Foto på Arvind Kunmar

The results can lead to new methods to restore the electric balance in the brain. This is something that would improve many people’s lives. In Europe alone, diseases of the brain cost society around EUR 800 billion per year, equivalent to one third of the total cost for healthcare.

Questioning of how we currently view diseases of the brain is the starting point. Today’s pharmacological treatment methods often target what has gone wrong at the molecular level in the cells. A changed function at this level in turn causes changes to the activity of the nerve cells and the signaling between the cells. Consequently, an alternative is to look up one level, at the network level, to more directly correct the errors that arise in the brain’s electric activity.

Pacemaker for the brain

Today, deep brain stimulation is already an established and effective treatment method for motor diseases of the brain, such as Parkinson’s disease. In recent years, this method has also been used for psychiatric diseases, such as severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, deep depression and Tourette’s syndrome.

The technology behind deep brain stimulation can be compared to a pacemaker for the brain. Surgeons attach electrodes to special areas in the brain, which are then stimulated by electrical impulses from a pulse generator. Although the technique has provided good results, it is not really known why it works. It also does not work for anywhere near all of the patients.

KTH has established a new lab to study the brain’s communication in various illnesses with computer models. The goal is to provide understanding of the brain’s way of coordinating its activity to identify better treatment methods, such as improving the technology for deep brain stimulation. The results may be entirely new treatment methods to give patients with e.g. Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease the chance for a better and richer life. The models can also be used to develop new, better medication that solves the problem by re-establishing normal communication between brain areas.

KTH’s initiative

We want to take the lead in a budding field where a new approach to diseases of the brain is being created. Here, we see the possibility of recreating activity patterns and signals that have been lost in diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. A special project “Digitizing Brain Data for Health and Disease” has therefore been created with the help of a strategic grant for digitalization from the government. We want to use part of this initiative for a targeted five-year project in this field.

Why KTH?

Today, brain research at KTH has both a unique emphasis and expertise in Europe. Some of the world’s leading theoreticians in the field work here, with ideas that are unrivaled worldwide. KTH is also deeply involved in the strategic EU-financed Human Brain Project (HBP). One billion euro is being invested here to build and validate computer models of the brain, among other efforts. KTH is involved in the project in many different ways, partly by simulating the brain and partly by building up a European infrastructure for brain research. Here, the powerful computing capacity at KTH’s Center for Parallel Computing has been crucial.

How do we achieve the goals?

We need financing for a five-year project that can show the way to new knowledge about the brain’s communication and signal processing. In the project, we want to focus on a few questions that can lead to concrete results and improve today’s clinical work. This may, for example, involve optimizing today’s clinical equipment for deep brain stimulation. The knowledge we gather along the way will provide KTH a unique position globally and lay the foundation for successful future research.

Key people

Arvind Kumar, a researcher whose computing models have provided new and in-depth knowledge about decision-making, learning and various motor functions. Together with Jeanette Helgren Kotaleski, Erik Fransen, Örjan Smedby and Wojciech Chachólski, he is participating in KTH Digital Futures with the goal of using computer models and machine learning to generate better diagnosis and treatment methods for diseases of the brain.


Page responsible:Sofia Tatsis
Belongs to: About KTH
Last changed: Jul 07, 2020