Pacemaker may control epilepsy30th June 2006
Scientists in America have developed a neurological pacemaker, which they say could help millions of people with epilepsy.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hope to try out the neurological pacemaker, which detects and treats seizures before they happen, this summer.
The new procedure is based around an existing treatment known as vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). A small electrical device is planted in the body which sends regular electrical pulses to the brain, usually one every five minutes throughout the day. Experts at MIT say they have developed a method of analysing the brain’s activity which can be used alongside VNS to prevent seizures from occurring.
By using electrodes attached to a cap, the system can monitor neurological activity and determine when an episode is likely. A message is then sent to the VNS implant, which sends a specific shock to prevent the incident, rather than the scatter-gun of electric shocks currently used.
Researchers say this will dramatically reduce the number of pulses sent to the brain and more effectively control epilepsy.
MIT researcher Ari Shoeb, who developed the system, and Steven Schacter, an expert in VNS, say they are preparing to test the procedure on a handful of patients over the next few months. Tests using existing data have encouraged them to think that success could lead to much wider adoption of VNS as a treatment for neurological problems.
Around 456,000 people have epilepsy in Britain, a third of whom cannot be treated with medication. Even those who can use medical controls are often plagued with unpleasant side-effects. Nerve stimulation has proved a successful alternative, with around two-thirds of all patients experiencing significant improvements.
The team behind the new system say they are still some way from reaching the public, and each device will need to be tailored to the individual patient.
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