Implantable Device Suppresses Seizures From The Inside

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A new medical device may provide provide epilepsy sufferers with relief from seizures by suppressing them immediately as they begin. Researchers announced that clinical trials of the Responsive Neurostimulator System (RNS) show the device can decrease the number of monthly seizures by nearly 38 percent. According to Futurity, the device received approval from the Food and Drug Administration on Nov. 14.

“This is the first FDA-approved brain implant for epilepsy that responds to the brain’s activity,” says Michel Berg, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “For patients who are unable to control their seizures with medications or are not eligible for resective surgery, this device could provide an important treatment option.”

It is estimated that three million Americans suffer from epilepsy, which results in burst of electrical activity in the brain caused when groups of neurons fire in an abnormal pattern. The seizures can be triggered by a variety of factors and can vary greatly in length and severity. Some are able to manage the condition through antiepileptic drugs, but a great portion of epilepsy patients do not see significant improvement with the drugs. Others are candidates for surgery which removes the region of the brain where the seizures are coming from.

Those two treatment options leave a high proportion of seizure sufferers without an effective method of controlling their seizures, especially those who have seizures originating in several different spots of the brain or in areas of the brain that serve an important functioning.

The researchers compare their implantable device to an implantable cardiac defibrillator, which detects abnormal heart rhythms and delivers electrical stimulation to correct them. The RNS is surgically implanted under the scalp and connected to two leads – insulated wires with electrodes at the end – which are placed either on the surface of the brain or guided into the area where doctors believe the seizures to be originating.

By continuously monitoring a patient’s brain waves, the device can detect when seizure activity begins. Then, a brief electrical stimulation is used to suppress the seizures.

“The RNS system is not only a technological breakthrough, but the device is an important new tool that could help patients control their seizures and, ultimately, improve their quality of life,” says James Fessler, director of URMC’s Strong Epilepsy Center.

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