This research included the efforts of former CURE grantee Ivan Soltesz.
The Soltesz lab at Stanford University is using NCSA’s Blue Waters supercomputer to create realistic models of the hippocampus in rat brains. The hippocampus is a seahorse-shaped structure located in the temporal lobe of the brain, and is responsible for forming short-term memories. The hippocampus is thought to be the site of origin of temporal lobe epilepsy, which is the most common variant of the disease.
Epilepsy is the fourth most common human neurological disorder in the world—a disorder characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a record number of people in the United States have epilepsy: 3.4 million total, including nearly half a million children. At this time, there’s no known cause or cure, but with the help of Blue Waters supercomputer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, researchers like Ivan Soltesz are making progress.
The team is optimistic that these simulations will help them acquire needed basic knowledge—the role of the hippocampus and how information is transmitted. Understanding how this region of the brain works will potentially allow them to relate the structural differences between a typical brain and one affected by epilepsy.
“We’re hoping once we understand the basic principles of how oscillations are generated in the hippocampus, we can incorporate epileptic changes in our models and how that changes the oscillations,” Raikov says. “If we model the damage that is caused by epilepsy, can we have a simulation that generates seizures or seizure-like behavior? In that way we hope to see some connection between the changes that occur in the brain during the seizure and other pathological events.”