Brain implant gives early warning of epileptic seizure

May 2, 2013

Seizure advisory system intracranial electrode arrays (gray areas) collect intracranial electroencephalogram (EEG) data on the cortical surface. A subclavicularly placed implanted telemetry unit then wirelessly transmits the data to an external, hand-held personal advisory device that applies an algorithm to the data and displays the resultant information as a series of advisory lights in addition to an audible tone or vibration, or both. (Credit: Mark J Cook et al./Lancet Neurology)

A new brain implant can warn of seizures minutes before they strike, enabling them to get out of situations that could present a safety risk, New Scientist reports.

With funding from NeuroVista, a medical device company in Seattle, Mark Cook of the University of Melbourne and his colleagues have developed a brain implant that consists of a small patch of electrodes that measure brain wave activity.

Over time, the device’s software learns which patterns of brainwave activity indicate that a seizure is about to happen. When it detects such a pattern, the implant then transmits a signal through a wire to a receiver implanted under the wearer’s collarbone.

This unit alerts the wearer by wirelessly activating a handheld gadget with colored lights — a red warning light, for example, signals that a seizure is imminent.

The device could also be linked to deep-brain-stimulation implants, which deliver small electric currents to the brain in order to halt seizures. These implants switch on automatically when seizures start. Triggering them in advance could prevent seizures more effectively, says Cook.

An early warning system for seizures could also improve the effectiveness of anti-epileptic drugs such as benzodiazepines.