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Scientists at Johns Hopkins University are developing a new early warning system for seizures that is sensitive enough to detect imminent seizures without setting off a large number of false alarms. The software may someday be embedded in a microchip that would continually check electrical activity in the brain and launch electrical stimulation whenever a seizure is beginning to form.
A seizure is a temporary disturbance in brain function whereby groups of nerve cells in the brain signal abnormally and excessively. Epilepsy — sometimes called seizure disorder — is a general term that refers to a tendency to have recurrent seizures. Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders worldwide, affecting 50 million people, including an estimated 2 million individuals in the United States. In a third of cases, medication cannot keep seizures from occurring.
One solution to these “drug resistant” seizures are brain implants. Brain implants shoot a short pulse of electricity to the brain to stop the seizure when it begins. However, brain implants have too many false alarms and trigger unneeded treatment. Too many false alarms can shorten the life of the battery that powers the implant, requiring surgical replacement. In addition, doctors don’t know what the health impacts of frequent pulses of electric current to the brain might be.
Sridevi V. Sarma, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University, is leading research to improve anti-seizure technology. In a recent study published in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior, Sarma’s team reported that it’s new seizure detection software, tested on real-time brain activity recordings collected from four drug-resistant epilepsy patients who experienced seizures while being monitored, significantly reduced the number of unneeded pulses of current that an epilepsy patient would receive.
Check out the video interview with Dr. Sarma below.
“Our dream goal,” says Dr. Sarma, “is to develop a technology that’s so accurate that patient seizures are suppressed 100% of the time so that they can live normal lives.”
Source: Johns Hopkins University
- Santaniello et al.Quickest detection of drug-resistant seizures: an optimal control approach. Epilepsy Behav. 2011 Dec;22 Suppl 1:S49-60.