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Published: 02 May 2013

Brain implant device to predict seizures

Epilepsy Society's medical director, Professor Ley Sander,  says a new device which uses the brain's electrical activity to tell patients if their risk of a seizure is high, moderate or low, is 'a  very interesting approach and shows that it is possible to predict seizures reliably.' He cautions: 'The technology is however still very invasive and will not have practical use in the short term apart from in specialist centres and for people with frequent seizures.' 

Professor Sander was commenting on a small study published in the Lancet today (1 May) which showed a small brain implant device has accurately predicted epilepsy seizures in some patients.

Improved quality of life

The study was led by Professor Mark Cook, chair of medicine at the University of Melbourne and director of neurology at St Vincent’s Hospital. He said, 'Knowing when a seizure might happen could dramatically improve the quality of life and independence of people with epilepsy.”

Professor Cook and his team, with Professors Terry O’Brien and Sam Berkovic, worked with researchers at Seattle-based company, NeuroVista, who developed a device which could be implanted between the skull and brain surface to monitor long-term electrical signals in the brain (EEG data).

They worked together to develop a second device implanted under the chest, which transmitted electrodes recorded in the brain to a hand-held device, providing a series of lights warning patients of the high (red), moderate (white), or low (blue), likelihood of having a seizure in the hours ahead.

Uncontrolled seizures

The two-year study included 15 people with epilepsy aged between 20 and 62 years, who experienced between two and 12 seizures per month and had not had their seizures controlled with existing treatments.

For the first month of the trial the system was set purely to record EEG data, which allowed Professor Cook and his team to construct individual algorithms of seizure prediction for each patient.

The system correctly predicted seizures with a high warning, 65 percent of the time, and worked to a level better than 50 percent in 11 of the 15 patients. Eight of the 11 patients had their seizures accurately predicted between 56 and 100 percent of the time.

Uncontrolled epilepsy

'One to two percent of the population have chronic epilepsy and up to 10 percent of people will have a seizure at some point in their lives, so it’s very common. It’s debilitating because it affects young people predominantly and it affects them often across their entire lifespan,' Professor Cook said.

'The problem is that people with epilepsy are, for the most part, otherwise extremely well. So their activities are limited entirely by this condition, which might affect only a few minutes of every year of their life, and yet have catastrophic consequences like falls, burns and drowning.'

Professor Cook hopes to replicate the findings of the study in larger clinical trials, and is optimistic the technology will lead to improved management strategies for epilepsy in the future.

Collaborators on the study included the Royal Melbourne Hospital and Austin Health, Australia.