An artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm that can detect subtle brain abnormalities which cause epileptic seizures has been developed by a team of international researchers.
The Multicentre Epilepsy Lesion Detection (MELD) project, led by researchers at the University College London, used over 1,000 MRI scans from 22 global epilepsy centres to develop the algorithm, which provides reports of where the abnormalities are in cases of drug-resistant focal cortical dysplasia (FCD) -- a leading cause of epilepsy.
FCDs are areas of the brain that have developed abnormally and often cause drug-resistant epilepsy. It is typically treated with surgery, however identifying the lesions from an MRI is an ongoing challenge for clinicians, as MRI scans in FCDs can look normal.
To develop the algorithm, the team quantified cortical features from the MRI scans, such as how thick or folded the cortex/brain surface was, and used around 300,000 locations across the brain.
Researchers then trained the algorithm on examples labelled by expert radiologists as either being a healthy brain or having FCD -- dependent on their patterns and features.
The findings, published in Brain, found that overall the algorithm was able to detect the FCD in 67 per cent of cases in the cohort (538 participants).
Previously, 178 of the participants had been considered MRI negative, which means that radiologists had been unable to find the abnormality -- yet the MELD algorithm was able to identify the FCD in 63 per cent of these cases.
This is particularly important, as if doctors can find the abnormality in the brain scan, then surgery to remove it can provide a cure.
"This algorithm could help to find more of these hidden lesions in children and adults with epilepsy, and enable more patients with epilepsy to be considered for brain surgery that could cure the epilepsy and improve their cognitive development," said Dr Konrad Wagstyl from UCL's Queen Square Institute of Neurology.
Around 1 per cent of the world's population have the serious neurological condition epilepsy, that is characterised by frequent seizures.
In children who have had surgery to control their epilepsy, FCD is the most common cause, and in adults it is the third most common cause.
Additionally, of patients who have epilepsy that have an abnormality in the brain that cannot be found on MRI scans, FCD is the most common cause.
The algorithm automatically learns to detect lesions from thousands of MRI scans of patients. It can reliably detect lesions of different types, shapes and sizes, and even many of those lesions that were previously missed by radiologists.
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