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New research in tracking seizures

30 April, 2001

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center are continuing research into the pattern of human brain activity that indicates the conditions triggering seizures can take hours to develop.

The work points toward a method to short-circuit epileptic seizures and convulsions before they strike, through the use of implantable brain devices and medications, according to Dr Brian Litt, author of the study.

"This study is part of a large collaborative effort to control symptoms of a condition that dominates the lives of otherwise healthy individuals by its dramatic unpredictability," Litt said. “The potential to use our findings to help people with poorly controlled seizures world-wide is enormous.”

Litt and his colleagues measured brain activity through EEG readings for five epilepsy patients who were being evaluated for surgery and had therefore stopped taking anti-seizure medication. The readings tracked the patients for periods ranging from four to 14 days.

The researchers discovered cycles of abnormal brain activity lasting 15 to 30 minutes. The discharges became more frequent over a period of hours as they led to brief, asymptomatic seizures at specific points in the brain.

Those smaller seizures triggered a steady increase in activity that spread across the brain and culminated in clinical seizures.

Writing in the journal Neuron, Litt said:

"This information provides a real opportunity to stop abnormal activity in epileptic brain regions before seizures develop". Although substantial work remains before the study findings can be put to clinical use, he believes scientists may eventually be able to implant devices in the brain that will abort seizures by reacting to, and diffusing, the cycle of increasing abnormal brain activity.