New Solution: VERTEX – simulating interventions on the mammalian brain

The Neuroinformatics lab at Newcastle University has developed Vertex, a computational model of the mammalian brain that can reproduce activity observed in ex vivo tissue. This model can be used to estimate the effect of intervention on the activity in different cortical layers and could replace some animal use during basic research, the early stages of medical device development or pharmacological drug discovery.

Collaborators with expertise in various brain diseases, and different animal species and brain tissues are being sought to test the reach of the model. Alliances are also being sought with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to explore the utility of the computational models in improving safety and efficiency of drug development aimed at brain disorders. 

Literature searches indicate that ex vivo brain slice recordings play a significant role in neurobiology research and it is not uncommon for up to 34 animals or more to be used in these studies to obtain the tissue. Computational models developed as an alternative to ex vivo brain slice recordings were previously focused on rodent brains and detailed modelling of individual neurons and small circuits. However, these models either do not generate the type of signals that can be measured experimentally or they do not represent the anatomical and physiological properties of ex vivo or in vitro brain tissue models. The novel Vertex software allows the user to measure the local field potential, as recorded by electrodes placed within the tissue, at any point within the three-dimensional tissue simulation.  The recording from the Vertex computer model can therefore be directly compared to an experimental recording in ex vivo brain tissue. Moreover, the model can be extended to predict in vivo recordings from the top of the cortical surface (electrocorticogram) or non-invasive electroencephalogram recordings (EEG). 

Vertex opens up the possibility to test which interventions have a maximal effect and which elicit potential side effects in a brain model. In this way, compounds or medical devices that later fail could be identified earlier and removed before vertebrate testing, reducing the number of experiments requiring animals and/ or primary tissue. Furthermore, computational models might indicate the most suitable species for later animal experiments.

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