Stanford simulator predicts brain swelling to guide surgeons

The simulation shows what parts of the brain are in the most danger, and where to cut.

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Surgeons have been cutting out parts of the skulls of patients suffering from brain trauma for a very long time. But a new simulation tool developed by a team of researchers for Stanford U and the University of Oxford will help make the procedure a lot safer. Decompressive craniectomy, as the method is called, gives the swelling brain space to expand in order to save a person's life after a head injury. However, it could also lead to complications. See, when the brain bulges out of a hole, its axons (or the fragile threadlike parts of its nerve cells) have the tendency to stretch and break. This tool can minimize potential complications by telling surgeons the optimal place to cut and how large the hole should be, depending on the type of injury.

To develop the tool, the team studied medical scans showing the amount of swelling for different types of brain injuries. They then created mathematical estimates that can predict how an injury would affect different parts of the organ. Once they were done designing the system, then ran different scenarios through the simulation and found that you'll see serious damage if axons expand near or above 30 percent. The resulting simulation, by the way, displays the most affected parts of the brain in red, areas that sustained mild damage in green and safe parts in blue. This gives surgeons a very visual guide to decide the best place to perform the decompressive craniectomy.

The team knows their creation is in its very early stages, and they're hoping that surgeons could pitch in and help them develop it further. For now, you can read more about their study on Physical Review Letters, or watch the video below.

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