Informatics for EEG biomarker discovery in clinical neuroscience
Bosl, William J.
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Neurological and developmental disorders (NDDs) impose an enormous burden of disease on children throughout the world. Two of the most common are autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and epilepsy. ASD has recently been estimated to affect 1 in 68 children, making it the most common neurodevelopmental disorder in children. Epilepsy is also a spectrum disorder that follows a developmental trajectory, with an estimated prevalence of 1%, nearly as common as autism. ASD and epilepsy co-occur in approximately 30% of individuals with a primary diagnosis of either disorder. Although considered to be different disorders, the relatively high comorbidity suggests the possibility of common neuropathological mechanisms. Early interventions for NDDs lead to better long-term outcomes. But early intervention is predicated on early detection. Behavioral measures have thus far proven ineffective in detecting autism before about 18 months of age, in part because the behavioral repertoire of infants is so limited. Similarly, no methods for detecting emerging epilepsy before seizures begin are currently known. Because atypical brain development is likely to precede overt behavioral manifestations by months or even years, a critical developmental window for early intervention may be opened by the discovery of brain based biomarkers. Analysis of brain activity with EEG may be under-utilized for clinical applications, especially for neurodevelopment. The hypothesis investigated in this dissertation is that new methods of nonlinear signal analysis, together with methods from biomedical informatics, can extract information from EEG data that enables detection of atypical neurodevelopment. This is tested using data collected at Boston Children’s Hospital. Several results are presented. First, infants with a family history of ASD were found to have EEG features that may enable autism to be detected as early as 9 months. Second, significant EEG-based differences were found between children with absence epilepsy, ASD and control groups using short 30-second EEG segments. Comparison of control groups using different EEG equipment supported the claim that EEG features could be computed that were independent of equipment and lab conditions. Finally, the potential for this technology to help meet the clinical need for neurodevelopmental screening and monitoring in low-income regions of the world is discussed.