Managing epilepsy: smart implants to keep the doctor away

“When you have epilepsy you feel useless. You crave independence”.
Hannah Galvin

Epilepsy can prevent people from enjoying the things the rest of us take for granted – swimming, driving, even holding down a job, as seizures can strike at any time.

Current treatment options are drugs and surgery, but for some epilepsy patients such as Hannah Galvin these may not be effective.

We have been working for several years to develop a brain implant that would predict when a seizure is about to take place, and apply a therapeutic stimulus to prevent it occurring – all without the patient feeling anything.

Hannah took part in experimental brain stimulation to help neurologist Professor Mark Cook and his team gather data to develop this life-changing implant.

She hopes that the research gained during her hospital visits can help improve epilepsy sufferers’ lives in the future.

According to the World Health Organisation, epilepsy is the most common brain disorder worldwide. It is estimated nearly 10 per cent of the population will have a seizure at some time during their life; one third of them will have recurrent seizures and one per cent of those people will be diagnosed with epilepsy. Around half a million Australians have epilepsy.

Life with epilepsy is difficult and can be very frightening. Seizures are unpredictable and can vary from brief ‘absences’ to convulsions and loss of consciousness.

The problem of diagnosing the cause of intermittent blackouts remains unsolved and leaves patients in a state of limbo, often limiting their activities and social interactions. To rule out or confirm epilepsy as the cause, standard EEG recordings are the best diagnostic tool but these are impractical over long periods and may not capture an event. Both patients and clinicians alike need a diagnostic system that can monitor brain activity over long periods of time.

To help doctors better diagnose patients, Bionics Institute researchers have developed an implantable device that is placed under the scalp in a simple surgical procedure. The device stays in place and detects seizures as they occur, monitoring and recording them accurately over a long period of time. This “real time” data can be accessed by the patient’s doctor for analysis, and will help tailor medications to suit the individual requirements of patients.

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