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04 April 2014

Project looks at a new epilepsy treatment

The Newcastle University led project,  will use an implant which uses light waves to try to counteract the disrupted brain activity which causes epileptic seizures. It involves designing a small device, about the size of a drawing pin, and implanting it into the patient’s brain, where it will continually monitor and interact with brain activity and stabilise disrupted networks of neurons.

The technique will also involve a form a gene therapy called optogenetics, which will be used to make the specific neurons which need to be targeted,  light sensitive.

Jointly funded by a ten million pound grant from the Welcome Trust and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the project will last seven years.

Dr Andrew Jackson, a Wellcome Trust Fellow in neuroscience, and Professor Anthony O'Neill, Siemens Professor of Microelectronics will lead the research.

Preventing seizures

Dr Jackson said: 'This is a new way of trying to prevent seizures before they happen. Currently implants only kick in once the seizure has started, which is often too late. If our technique works then it should be more effective and make a real difference to patients’ lives.'

Dr Roger Whittaker, Clinical Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant Clinical Neurophysiologist, in the Newcastle Upon Tyne NHS Hospitals Foundation Trust, who leads the clinical aspects of the project, said: 'Patients who can’t rely on drugs to help them with their epilepsy can really suffer. This innovative approach could offer a better long term solution for that group and really have a positive impact on their lives.'