Implant to fight epilepsy

January 25, 2008 4:05:31 PM PST
Drugs developed in recent years have been a big help in controlling epileptic seizures. But what if something could forecast, and largely stop, those seizures? That's the promise of a device now in tests at Jefferson Hospital for Neuroscience.

Ronni Gorelick has dealt with epilepsy most of her life.

But it wasn't till after a serious car accident, that it began to seriously take over her life.

Ronni recalls, "I was on medication, and I was having seizures anyway."

And the side effects from the medication were mounting for her. "Mood changes, interactions with sleep, food sensitivities, bones, eyes, heart, balance."

But then she heard about a new device called the Neuropace neurostimulator being tested at Jefferson Hospital for Neuroscience.

You might say it can read Ronni's mind.

Seizures are similar to lightning - electrical charges that spread across, or through, the brain.

Inside the Neuropace is a tiny sensor that continually monitors Ronni's brain waves.

Dr Christopher Skidmore describes its work. "We can record the seizure, the device can recognize it as a seizure, and then basically stimulate or shock that part of the brain to prevent the seizure from spreading, and becoming a big seizure."

Unlike past devices, called vagus nerve stimulators, the Neuropace doesn't send out electrical signals all the time.

As Dr. Skidmore says, "This one only stimulates when it's necessary."

The Neuropace is implanted, but almost invisibly.

Dr. James Evans says, "It can be placed anywhere in the skull. We tend to put it on the side."

Since she got the device in May, Ronni has had an improvement in her seizures.

"While I continue to have some breakthroughs, they are fewer, and those that I am having are shorter," she notes.

If future tests go well, the doctors at Jefferson say Neuropace could be a leap forward for the nearly 1 million people with uncontrolled epileptic seizures.

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