Study through video games, virtual reality in adolescents with epilepsy

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Dell Medical School at the University of Texas is starting a three-year study with video games and virtual reality to try to rebuild the brains of teens with epilepsy.

We take the concept of neuroplasticity (that our brains can create new pathways after an injury) and see if they can also create new pathways before an injury occurs.

In this case, the injury is a surgery on the affected area of ​​the brain that causes epileptic seizures.

The study is funded by a $ 2.5 million grant from the Coleman Fung Foundation. Coleman Fung is the founder of software company Open Link Financial Inc. His Austin-based company, Blue Goji, is a wellness technology company that uses treadmills, virtual reality and video games to create a fitness experience.

Dell Medical School will receive two Blue Goji Infinity virtual real estate gaming systems for use in the studio.

Fung said the UT and Blue Goji teams have been working on similar missions: “To actively create a different way to address different brain health issues. It’s a perfect synergy.”

The Dell Medical School study includes people working at UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering, Moody’s College of Communication, and Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences.

Dr. David Paydarfar, president of the neurology department at Dell Medical School and lead researcher on the study, said that while people have been studying neuroplasticity for decades, this study will conduct research. Previously, it was like studying rocket science without trying to go to the moon.

The study is aimed at young people aged 15 to 20 with epilepsy who need surgery to stop seizures. Prior to surgery, enrolled teens will have this area of ​​the brain mapped to see what functions are there, such as motor functions or speech and language.

Each study participant will have an individual video game regimen based on the functions affected at the site of epilepsy.

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While study participants play the games, researchers will see in real time how this area of ​​the brain works. Researchers will give brain feedback using sensors and virtual reality while the teen is still playing to try to get the brain to perform all of these functions in a different area.

José del R. Millán, a professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering and Dell’s School of Medicine, whose research is on brain-computer interfaces, compared it to how to visualize Olympic athletes making a leap. over and over again before jumping or lowering the initial block before they do.

If researchers can see the functions that begin to happen elsewhere, once epilepsy surgery is over, the hope is that the brain will remember the new pathway that was created during the games and start using it. .

Researchers hope this will reduce the amount of permanent damage caused by surgery and reduce the therapies needed.

The team wants to study between 10 and 20 teens during this three-year period. Each participant will essentially be a separate study, Paydarfar said, because brain mapping, the affected area of ​​the brain, and video game treatments will be individualized.

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Paydarfar said there has been a lot of interest in this program from all over the world. He hopes that if TU can demonstrate success in rebuilding the brain in this way, it can create a center focused on using this technique for more patients with epilepsy, as well as expanding it to other brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, Post traumatic stress disorder.

“If we understand the circuits and neuroplasticity of the brain, could we protect the healthiest areas of the brain?” Paydarfar said.

Millán, who has worked in Italy and Switzerland and at schools such as Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley, said this research is the basis of a larger vision. “This is a lifelong program,” he said. “That’s why I came to Austin in the first place, to speed up this process and … to have the necessary experience in one place, in Austin. That’s unique.”

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