Patent Awarded for New Method of Controlling Seizures

Posted: August 10, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jeremy Lasich

George Mason’s 13th patent was recently awarded for “Adaptive Field Control of Epileptic Seizures” thanks to Steven Schiff and Bruce Gluckman, professors in the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study. The pair has developed a new way to treat seizures for those who suffer from epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease.

Currently accepted therapies for the diseases are either pharmacological or neurosurgical. The drugs available often have serious side effects and low safety margins, while the surgical option involves damaging the brain tissue thought to be at the center of the seizure’s location, resulting in the loss of some neurological functions. Schiff’s and Gluckman’s electric field control method will deliver extremely minute electrical shocks to affected brain tissue, which will allow the brain cells to reset their own tempo and resume normal behavior. It is similar to, but more complex than, a cardiac pacemaker.

One of the biggest challenges for researchers has been the inability to stimulate a seizure at the same time it is being sensed. “When you drive a car, you probably keep your eyes on the road at the same time you are steering. Presently, there is no kind of technology that lets you do that with the brain,” says Schiff, who has been working on simultaneous measurement and control for about eight years.

Steven Schiff
Steven Schiff
Photo by Eric Goodman

“All of the devices available now for trying to stimulate an epileptic seizure sense what the brain is doing before making a response, then wait a few more seconds to see what’s happening. Our device continually senses what the nerve cells are doing, then continually produces an output to work directly with that signal. That’s never been done before in terms of a control system for a neural circuit.”

Brain waves are continuously active, and during a seizure the waves become very high energy. Ideally, one would detect the changes leading up to a seizure, and use an electrical signal to prevent the seizure from forming. Since it is very difficult to anticipate a seizure at present, Schiff and Gluckman’s strategy is layered. The sensor would listen at all times to see if the patient is in danger of having a seizure, and would try to prevent it from forming. If this fails and a seizure starts, the sensor would distribute a different signal to break up the seizure.

“What we’re doing is continuously having the sensor and the signals interact, and we want to be very selective so we’re not interfering with the patient’s ability to talk or remember things,” says Schiff. “Ideally we’d give so little current as you’re about to have a seizure that you’ll still be able to function.”

Schiff hopes to test the device on humans in the next few years, but insists it won’t be done until the time is right and all safety precautions have been taken.

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