How to predict a brainquake


Welcome back. Hope ya’ll had a good holiday and that 2008 brings your hearts’ desires.

First up this year, a cracker of a paper showing how epileptic fits might be predicted following the discovery of a profound statistical analogy between earthquakes and “brainquakes”.

Ivan Osirio  at the University of Kansas Medical Centre and  a few pals  have studied brain wave recordings taken during more than 16000 seizures in patients with severe epilepsy and compared it to the data from the Southern Californian Seismic Network.

And get this: the data is almost interchangeable. Geophysicists have spotted all kindsa interesting features in earthquake data over the years and now Osirio says the same features are also present in brainquake data.

For example, the Gutenberg-Richter law expresses how the number of earthquakes varies with size–ie few large ones and many small ones, a relationship that holds over many orders of magnitude. Osiris says the same holds true for brainquakes
The frequency of aftershocks decreases in inverse proportion to the time after a quake, a relationship known as Omori’s law. Now Osiris has found the same holds true of brainquakes.

And he goes on. Earthquakes and brainquakes share the same statistical characterstics when it comes to the time between events and with the expected time until the next event depending on the time elapsed since the last one. It’s uncanny.

(Except it ain’t really a surprise since the notion of universality tells us that in certain circumstances radically different systems can have the same scale free behavior.)

But the real surprise is that hidden within the brainquake statistics is a way of spotting them in advance (and therefore of preventing them). Osiris has found that many brainquakes are preceded by foreshocks that go unnoticed by the patient and that these can be reliable indicatoes that a major quake is imminent.

That’s an impressive result. As the authors point out: “a general strategy for forecasting seizures [is] one of neurosciences’ grails”

Ref: Epileptic Seizures: Quakes of the Brain?

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