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Implanted device predicts oncoming seizures in those with epilepsy

TORONTO – A new device may offer hope to people with epilepsy as the technology could predict the onset of seizures in adults who have the condition and can’t be treated with medication, according to Australian scientists.

The small device is implanted in the brain. Researchers at the University of Melbourne said their proof-of-concept study found that it can successfully detect brain activity that would lead to episodes of seizures.

“Knowing when a seizure might happen could dramatically improve the quality of life and independence of people with epilepsy and potentially allow them to avoid dangerous situations, such as driving or swimming, or to take drugs to stop the seizures before they start,” Dr. Mark Cook said.

“The first thing of this was to give people back some independence. If they know when a seizure is going to happen, they can arrange their lives to be better, make themselves safer, go about work and so on in a much more comfortable and relaxed way.”

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His complete findings were published Thursday night in the prestigious journal, Lancet Neurology.

Read more: Inside Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a physical condition marked by sudden, brief changes in the brain’s functioning.

The unusual activity in the brain causes patients to have recurring, unprovoked seizures.

There is a wide spectrum when identifying a seizure, from convulsions on one end to tuning out for just a few seconds before returning to regular activities.

Device monitors abnormal brain activity in patients

In the study, 15 people with focal epilepsy between the ages of 20 and 62 had the device implanted between the skull and brain surface.

The study participants typically experienced between two and 12 seizures per month. Although most cases of epilepsy can be treated with medication, theirs was not responsive to at least two drug therapies.

The device, developed by Seattle-based company NeuroVista, monitors electrical activity in the brain.

Once abnormal electrical activity is flagged, the device sends a message to a second device implanted under the skin of the chest similar to a pacemaker.

The information then makes its way to a wireless, hand-held device that calculates the likelihood of a seizure.

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Three coloured lights – red, white or blue – warn users of the probability of encountering a seizure.

The researchers found that the system was right about “high warning” of seizures more than 65 per cent of the time and in about 11 of the 15 subjects.

Eight of the patients kept the device activated for about four months – the accuracy ranged from 56 to 100 per cent.

However, three patients had serious side effects, with two needing the device to be removed.

Cook said the findings are promising. If they’re replicated in larger, longer studies, the technology could even offer insight into how to prevent seizures using fast-acting drugs or brain stimulation to stifle a seizure.

Epilepsy in Canada

Epilepsy Canada said that about 0.6 per cent of the population has the disorder. This includes anyone who’s had a seizure in the past five years.

Read more: Inside Epilepsy: Patients turn to brain surgery for treatment

It’s the third most common neurological disorder in adults after stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, according to University Health Network.

Each day, about 42 people are diagnosed with the condition, according to the organization. That’s about 15,500 people a year.

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carmen.chai@globalnews.ca