Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


MIT device could prevent epileptic seizures

Researchers at MIT are developing a device that could detect and prevent epileptic seizures before they become debilitating.

Epilepsy affects about 50 million people worldwide, and while anticonvulsant medications can reduce the frequency of seizures, the drugs are ineffective for as many as one in three patients.

The new treatment builds on an existing treatment for epilepsy, the Cyberonics Inc. vagus nerve stimulator (VNS), which is often used in patients who do not respond to drugs. A defibrillator typically implanted under the patient's collar bone stimulates the left vagus nerve about every five minutes, which has been shown to help reduce the frequency and severity of seizures in many patients.

The MIT researchers and colleagues at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) seek to improve the treatment by combining it with a detector that measures brain activity to predict when a seizure is about to occur. The new device would sense the oncoming seizure and then activate the VNS, in principle halting the seizure before it becomes manifest.

"Our contribution is the software that decides when to turn the stimulator on," said John Guttag, MIT's Dugald C. Jackson Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Guttag developed the system along with Ali Shoeb, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology.

"Our colleague Dr. Steven Schachter, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and epileptologist at BIDMC, suggested hooking our detector up to the VNS," he said. MIT and BIDMC researchers plan to test the new device in epilepsy patients this fall. If it seems effective, more comprehensive trials will be launched.

A look at brain patterns

The detector works by measuring brain activity with electrodes placed on the patient's scalp. In its current form, the patient wears something resembling a bathing cap, in which electrodes are embedded. In order to adapt the detector to work with the VNS, researchers connected wires from the cap to a laptop computer or microprocessor that activates the implanted defibrillator.

Guttag said he believes the technology could be refined so the electrodes could be worn inside of a headband or baseball cap, making the device less obvious to observers.

Each epilepsy patient has different brain activity patterns, so the detector is programmed to measure an individual's patterns to determine what the precursors to a seizure look like for each patient.

"It's quite tricky to try to detect very early signs of seizures because there are abnormal electrical signals that don't evolve into seizures," Guttag said. "If we can learn what the right profile is for an individual, we can build a seizure onset detector that works really well for that person."

Ideally, when the device senses an impending seizure, it sends a magnetic signal to the implanted stimulator, which in turn activates the left vagus nerve. The vagus nerve sends electrical signals up to the brain as well as down toward the viscera, controlling heart rate, gastrointestinal peristalsis, sweating and keeping the larynx open for breathing. The mechanism by which VNS prevents seizures is not known, but the technique has been FDA approved to treat epilepsy for about 10 years.

About 32,000 epilepsy patients already have VNS implants, according to Guttag. Some of them are able to use a handheld magnet to activate the VNS on demand, but many cannot. If the new detection device is successful, it would allow many more patients to use the VNS on demand.

The device could also be adapted to provide warnings for patients who don't need or want VNS implants. Once the device alerts the patient that a seizure is imminent, that person could take steps to minimize injury, such as sitting down or moving away from potentially dangerous objects, such as a hot stove.

"If you could just give someone a little bit of warning they're about to have a seizure, it could be hugely valuable," Guttag said. "The seizures themselves aren't usually damaging to the brain in the long term. It's mostly about the collateral damage."

Although the seizure detector could have a huge impact on epilepsy patients, there are plenty of other potential applications for technology that analyzes electrical activity in individual brains, Guttag said. Depression, schizophrenia and attention deficit disorder are just a few of the conditions that could be studied.

"My hope is that we'll be able to use some of the technology to get insight into a lot of those mysterious neurological conditions," he said.

A paper describing the seizure-detection technology was published in the August 2004 issue of Epilepsy & Behavior.

Other researchers involved in the project are Blaise Bourgeois, a neurologist at Children's Hospital, and Ted Treves, chief of nuclear medicine at Children's Hospital and professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School.

This work was funded by the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology, the U.S. Army and MIT's Project Oxygen.

Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
Further information:

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>