L O N D O N, Jan. 19 -- New research adds hope that epileptics could oneday wear tiny brain sensors that detect an impending seizure andrelease medicine from implanted pumps in time to avert an attack.
In most epileptics, seizures occur without warning and cansometimes be disabling or fatal. Now, French scientists havedeveloped a way to use electrodes on the scalp that can sensechanges in brain activity an average seven minutes before seizuresoccur.
"This is far in the future. This is only a step," said Dr.Timothy Pedley of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York,who was not involved in the research, which was published in The Lancet. "But it's definitely anoteworthy advance."
About six out of every 1,000 people worldwide have epilepsy, andabout 2.3 million Americans suffer from the condition, whichinvolves periodic electrical storms in the brain. When the brain'scircuits misfire fast enough, a seizure results. It can range froma short vacant stare to jerking movements or severe convulsions andloss of consciousness.
About 30 percent of epileptics are not helped by medication.
The researchers, based at the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital inParis, measured changes in the electrical activity of the brains of23 epileptics using a standard scalp electroencephalograph, or EEG,a machine used routinely in the diagnosis and management of thedisease.
They then used highly sophisticated mathematics to translatethose recordings into tracings that show spikes in the pattern ofelectrical activity.
"What this does is suggest there may be another role for thestandard EEG. Eventually, this might be miniaturized and implanted,like a pacemaker," Pedley said.
Researchers have previously detected electrical changes thatsignify the first stirrings of a seizure by implanting sensors inthe brain, but such brain implants are not practical in real life.
Until now, scientists did not believe it would be possible torecord such subtle changes from outside the head.