Scientists Developed Digital Brain to Show How Toxic Protein Trafficking Leads to Neurodegenerative Disease

Digital Brain

Researchers at Steven Institute of Technology have created a 3D digital brain model to demonstrate the transportation of toxic proteins involved in neurodegenerative diseases to the brain. The model simulates the significant patterns of atrophy associated with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s diseases, by altering the starting point of toxic proteins in the brain. Researchers believe that this model will expand the understanding of such diseases.

The study, set to be featured in the October issue of journal Physical Review Letters, highlights an initial step towards bridging macro and micro approaches and opens new parameters of digital brain modelling.

Johannes Weickenmeier, a mechanical engineering professor, had pioneered the method to develop a digital brain by using 3D software that involves the reconstruction of brain’s highly folded and curved structure by arranging over 400,000 pyramid-shaped virtual blocks. According to him, building a brain is an art form and it is pretty difficult to reconstruct all the individual folds.

Using diffusion tensor imagining, a technique to obtain data, he overlaid the model that showcase the directions of signals passing through the brain. The digital model captured the flow of electrochemical signals and anatomical features similar to structures of human brain that carry signals in particular directions.

To demonstrate the spread of toxic proteins, the research team used certain equations similar to those adopted to characterize diffusion of heat through materials. Although neurodegenerative diseases are often associated with unusual biochemistry and severe symptoms, the digital model could reveal the telltale patterns of atrophy involved in such diseases, simply by modifying the toxic proteins’ starting point. These atrophy patterns emerged inherently from the system, said Mr. Weickenmeier.

He explained that the toxic proteins are scattered in different places for different neurodegenerative diseases. The spread of these proteins and the symptom developed by the patients are therefore controlled by connective pathways available to them. While biochemistry plays an important role in neurodegenerative diseases, efficacy of the brain simulation commends that connectivity and neuroanatomy are also important in mediating the progression of disease.

According to the researchers, digital brain modelling is in its primary stage and development of more refined model would help to speed diagnosis with precise prediction of symptoms or even aid in developing new treatments. Although the new model limits to little data to judge its predictions, brain imagining techniques are actively being developed to visualize the complex diseases.

Weickenmeier said that once these techniques are available, they can correlate with the model and provide patient-specific predictions in the future. Currently, the model’s potential also extends to other diseases including multiple sclerosis and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

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