There are many perks to being a journalist – you get taken to press events in glamorous locations and are sent freebies to review – but the highlight for me is to be able to use my writing to promote subjects that are important to me.
At the end of last year I wrote this article for Professional Engineering that looks at 10 of the newest technologies for treating epilepsy and potentially other serious neurological diseases.
1. A pair of French startups named Dataiku and Bioserenity have partnered to create a wearable device that can monitor patients at home in real-time. The system, called Neuronaute, combines smart clothing equipped with biometric sensors, a mobile app that processes data, and a cloud platform called Medata.lab for analysing the data and sharing it with doctors.
2. Researchers at the University of Virginia are trialling the use of focused ultrasound – thousands of beams of ultrasound energy focused on a single spot heat and destroy the targeted area – to treat patients with epilepsy. The study, which is being supported by the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, will assess the feasibility, safety and effectiveness of focused ultrasound to non-invasively destroy diseased brain tissue that causes seizures.
3. A study at the US-based Mayo Clinic has shown that continuous electric stimulation of the brain’s cortex can reduce the frequency of seizures. Researchers applied an electrode grid to the brain, to send an unnoticeable electric current to the brain, when patients showed a positive response the electrode array was replaced with a more permanent device.
4. Researchers at Sweden’s Linköping University have collaborated with École Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Gardanne, France to develop a tiny device that can detect seizures at the exact point they arise and deliver a substance that can stop them before they spread to other areas of the brain. The device, called a bioelectric pixel, is about the size of a hair follicle and combines recording electrodes with a pump mechanism to administer treatment.
5. Scientists at Harvard University have created a wire mesh doctors can inject into the brain to help treat epilepsy and other neurological diseases. The mesh, made of flexible gold and polymers, is so thin it can coil inside a syringe’s needle and does not need extensive surgery to insert. Once inside a patient’s head, it merges with the brain, the mesh structure allows neurons to pass through it therefore preventing too much disruption. The implanted device is connected to a computer, which monitors neurons and can send targeted electrical jolts to stimulate individual neurons.
6. Researchers at the University of California have developed a new battery-free, wireless sensor to record and relay vital signs in real time using ultrasound. Each neural dust sensor possesses a piezoelectric crystal that can convert mechanical power from ultrasonic pulses broadcast from outside the body into electrical power. The energy from these 60 ultrasonic pulses broadcast each second drives sensors and other electronics on the motes.
7. MyCareCentric Epilepsy – which has been developed by Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Kent, Shearwater Systems and Graphnet Health – uses wearables, machine learning, clinical records and data analysis to share information with patients and medical professionals in real-time. The programme, which was co-funded by Innovate UK and is being piloted by Poole Hospital and the Dorset Epilepsy Service, will see patients wear a Microsoft Band to record data such as sleep patterns, exercise, heart rate and temperature. Clinicians can access the findings, which could potentially also include video and audio recordings if a patient gives their consent, 24 hours a day online or via an app. Over time, Microsoft Azure – the company’s cloud computing service – could potentially “learn” when someone is about to have a seizure and warn them before it happens.
8. A consortium coordinated by the epileptologists of the University Hospital Bonn is developing a mobile sensor that can detect seizures and send a warning signal to relatives or doctors. Munich-based company Cosinuss has already developed an epilepsy sensor, which is placed in the ear like a hearing aid, which transmits signals via a connected smartphone to a central computer that continuously checks the incoming data for abnormalities. This EPItect system will be miniaturised and optimised.
9. Epilog, a spin-off from imec and Ghent University, is launching its platform that improves epilepsy diagnosis through an automated service that accurately and efficiently analyses large amounts of electroencephalogram (EEG) data. The platform enables doctors to make well-informed patient treatment decisions.
10. GE researchers are developing an electronic patch to monitor vital signs and send the data wirelessly to connected devices. The wearable device is about the size and shape of a sticking plaster, but has embedded organic light-emitting diodes which enable the device to analyse sweat and detect heart rate, blood pressure, and blood-oxygen saturation levels, and potentially, electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) readings. The wrist-worn sensor can wirelessly transmit data to any connected device, making it an effective tool to remotely monitor patients at home or elsewhere.