Epilepsy is a really, really common problem… [There are] 60 million people worldwide with epilepsy… [and only] about two-thirds are adequately treated with currently available medication…
The medications carry their own special problems. We’ve got to ingest these medications that soak your whole body and brain — and your body doesn’t like them. They cause bad side effects, most particularly, side effects in the central nervous system. They slow your mind; they affect your ability to perform; and as well they have lots of other effects: tension on the liver, bones, and other tissue. So, they’re not good drugs.
…A lot of the problem with epilepsy relates to its unpredictability … we have to soak people in medications to prevent seizures that might be occurring only for a few minutes a year, but in those few minutes, disrupts their entire life. Prevents them from driving. Stops them working. Threatens their safety. Costs their life sometimes. So the unpredictability is a major part of the disability …it necessitates chronic drug administration for an intermittent problem…So we’ve been working with a group based in the United States around seizure prediction and this has brought some really unique insights: [A person has a box implanted] — which sits underneath their clavicle, their collarbone — which records information that is drawn from these electrodes that we’ve placed over their brain through a hole that we’ve made in their skull…It transmits information to a small pager-sized device that they hold and that has a series of lights on it: a blue light to indicate a very low risk of seizures, a white light for a moderate risk, and a red light for a very high risk for seizures…And this, if effective, would remove a lot of the disability for people. It might let them get to work, play sports — conceivably — even drive. It might be that you can provide therapies when their status changes on the recording…Suddenly, this changes everything.…Conceivably we could construct polymer implants, which could not only release [an anticonvulsant] drug, but detect the seizure, and use the energy in the seizure itself to release the therapy. And this would be remarkable.
Mark Cook, chair of medicine and director of neurosciences at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, speaks at TEDxUWollongong on his research on developing new treatments for epilepsy. Watch his whole talk here »