A new treatment for epilepsy

March 10, 2011

By Donna Peck

A University of Kansas researcher is helping develop a ground-breaking and less invasive way to alert those with epilepsy that they are about to have a seizure. The invention will also deliver treatment automatically.

Ivan Osorio, MD, a professor at the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center, is working with Cyberonics in Houston, Tex. Their device will automatically detect and treat seizures without relying directly on brain signals. It will not require any type of brain surgery.

Although epileptic seizures can be controlled by medication, anticonvulsant drugs fail to work for about 25 percent of people with epilepsy, and many patients struggle with severe side effects from the medication. Scientists for years have been researching devices that can alert epileptic patients about the onset of a seizure so they can notify caregivers or health care providers more quickly. Traditionally, this technology usually entails implanting some kind of device that monitors brain activity.

Osorio said the Cyberonics device, which would be implanted under a patient's skin just below the left collar bone, can detect potential seizures by monitoring heart rather than brain signals. It would automatically trigger electrical stimulation of the vagus or cranial nerve in response to detections.

"The majority of devices on the market now try to detect potential seizures by delivering electrical currents to the vagus nerve periodically whether or not seizures are occurring," Osorio said. "Our monitor is different because we've endowed it with technology allowing it to detect the onset of seizures using heart signals and to automatically trigger the delivery of therapy to help block the seizures."

Equally important, Osorio says, is that the device will also collect and quantify seizure frequency, duration and intensity with great precision. This data will allow for an objective assessment of how effective various epilepsy therapies are in a particular patient.

Osorio says because the procedure to implant the device is minimally invasive, he believes more doctors will be able to perform the surgery and more insurance companies will cover the cost.

He says Cyberonics hopes to bring the device to the market within three years.
Last modified: Apr 26, 2011