Posted by: Hourglass PJ16 APR 2014
Almost 40 years ago, a young friend of mine died from epilepsy. Having taken a particular interest in new treatments for this condition since that time, I was interested to read about a potential new development in the form of a brain implant, research on which is being partly funded by the Wellcome Trust.
This brain implant will use light waves to try to counteract the disrupted brain activity that causes epileptic seizures. The research project will last seven years and will involve designing a small device, about the size of a drawing pin, to be implanted into the patient’s brain. It will continually monitor and interact with brain activity to stabilise disrupted networks of neurons. The technique will also involve a form of gene therapy called optogenetics, which will be used to make the specific neurons that need to be targeted light-sensitive.
In about one-third of patients with epilepsy in the UK, medication is of limited impact and for these patients surgery can be an option. For that to be possible the area of the brain from which the seizures are originating needs to be found and removed.
However, often a single area causing seizures cannot be found, or if it can it may lie within a region of the brain that cannot be removed without causing unacceptable side effects. And even in patients who are able to have surgery, the seizures can come back after a few years.
Implants represent another form of treatment, but current implants work in such a way that means they only start to operate once a seizure has started, and it is often too late by then. However, the new device will monitor the brain’s neurons to try to act before a seizure starts, which could potentially provide a more effective solution.