Saw a cool presentation today about an implant-based therapy for epilepsy at the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering by Jaideep Mavoori of NeuroVista, a company here in Seattle.
The idea is that if someone is warned of an imminent seizure in advance, say 20 minutes out, they can remove themselves from unsafe or embarrassing situations, take other precautions (lying down, perhaps), or take fast acting drugs that might stop it from happening. This is a big deal, as it helps the 30% or so of those suffering from the disease for whom conventional drug treatment doesn’t work. It may also allow some of those receiving drugs to come off them, reduce their dose, or shift to less effective drugs with fewer side effects. It might also help reduce the number of deaths from epilepsy-related accidents – 50,000 annually in the US, apparently.
The technology’s actually fairly simple. There’s three main parts, none of which appears to be particularly magical.
- an array of electrodes implanted on the surface of the brain, beneath the skull, but outside the dura mater, and thus not in contact with or penetrating the brain itself
- a set of signal processing and machine learning algorithms that classify brain patterns into risk levels based on training data previously collected from that individual and from the public in general
- A mobile device or phone app that warns the patient of periods of increased risk
It’s in trials at the moment in Australia, and is apparently performing well, with no known associated adverse events.
Apparently, this all started out with Jaideep’s PhD research into the sensorimotor function of moths – he basically designed chips and implants small enough to put in a moth, then studied the different nerve signals associated with its wings as it flew. They also did trials of the epilepsy detection technology on dogs, as they also suffer from epilepsy. Unfortunately, I was unable to find copies of the cute pictures he showed in the talk.
If you’re interested in hearing more, there’s a 5 minute video article from ABC News in Australia talking about it. It’s formatted a bit weird, so you might need to download it and switch to the second audio track in VLC.
Edit: Apparently the electrodes are implanted beneath the dura mater, but outside the arachnoid mater. So, between the second and third membranes that encase the brain.