Brain Stimulation Update – Dr. David Groppe and Gerard O’Leary

It may seem like something from the future, but EpLink researchers are on their way to creating a “smart” computer chip that can detect and stop seizures before they happen.

Dr. David Groppe and engineering graduate student Gerard O’Leary from the Brain Monitoring & Modulation group (formerly Seizure Prediction and Brain Stimulation) are developing a tiny chip that can be placed in the brains of people with uncontrolled seizures. The chip will monitor brain activity in real-time and look for patterns that suggest a seizure is about to occur. When a seizure is detected, the chip will stimulate the brain area, stopping the seizure before any symptoms are noticed.

While there have been many attempts to use brain stimulation to stop seizures in the past, the chip this team is designing is different in two important ways. First, while many brain stimulators are continuously active, this chip triggers stimulation only when a seizure is likely to occur, which prevents unnecessary stimulation. In addition, this chip will learn the unique patterns of brain activity that are seen leading up to a seizure using much more powerful computing methods than the ones used in currently available devices, which should greatly improve its ability to sense when seizures are about to occur.

The previous version of this system has shown promising results in animal studies. In 2015, a study from Dr. Jose Luis Perez Velazquez's lab showed that around 90% of all seizures were correctly detected using an initial, simpler version of this device. Importantly, this chip was able to prevent almost 100% of those seizures from happening.

This summer, a clinical trial is planned at the Toronto Western Hospital to test this chip in people with uncontrolled seizures. If it is successful, this promising technique will make it easier to stop seizures before they happen, greatly increasing the quality of life for people living with epilepsy.

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