According to the CDC, over 3.4 million Americans – or 1.2 percent of the U.S. population – suffer from some form of epilepsy. Medication keeps some of these people’s seizures under control. The medications’ side effects, however, often make it difficult to function normally, and at least 30 percent of patients don’t respond to anti-seizure medication at all.
Enter NeuroPace, Inc., a neuro-technology company based in Silicon Valley. It recently concluded a nine-year study on patients suffering from epilepsy using a tech gadget – not medication – to stymie the seizures.
The results? Over the course of the study, 75 percent of epileptic patients had at least a 50 percent reduction in seizures – and 33 percent had at least a 90 percent reduction! In addition, 28 percent had no seizures for over six months and 18 percent had no seizures for over a year. Patients did not report chronic stimulation side effects.
NeuroPace’s neuro-modulation study was the longest and largest for epileptics. The company evaluated 230 patients from 33 epilepsy centers across the United States. In addition to long-term seizure reduction, patients reported having a better quality of life in areas unrelated to epilepsy, and the device’s neural recordings provided doctors with critical information to better understand and, subsequently, treat seizures.
So how exactly does the technology work?
Neurons in the human brain constantly release electrical signals (otherwise known as brain activity). Misfired electrical signals can result in seizures. Anti-seizure medications remove, reduce, or alter excessive electrical activity so that faulty electrical signals aren’t “passed on” to the next batch of neurons, thus reducing the probability of seizures.
In contrast, NeuroPace’s Responsive Neurostimulation (RNS) System uses a computer interface technology device to treat the seizures at their source – and the device only goes into gear when the patient requires it. The RNS System uses a three-pronged approach. First, it detects and responds to a patient’s brain activity. Every patient’s brain is a little different, so doctors tailor the program to each patient’s unique brain activity.
Once programmed, the RNS System monitors a patient’s brainwaves and is ready to provide treatment whenever it detects unusual activity that can lead to a seizure, even if the patient is sleeping. Finally, once unusual brain activity is detected, the device responds with a series of electrical pulses or bursts of stimulation to stop the seizure and normalize the brainwaves before the seizure begins.
The RNS device, which is essentially a neuro-stimulator, is placed on the bone covering the brain. Once installed, it cannot be seen or felt. Tiny wires are positioned on one or two places atop the brain where seizure activity is likely to occur. The RNS System has a remote monitor used by patients to upload his or her data, as well as an RNS tablet and Patient Data Management System to enable doctors to better monitor patients. The device can always be turned off or removed if a patient doesn’t want it anymore.
During the course of the study, NeuroPace upgraded its RNS System. The 2.0 version has a battery life lasting 8.4 years, as opposed to the original’s 3.9 years. The amount of available memory for doctors to review patients’ brainwaves has also doubled.
The RNS System is available in epilepsy centers across the U.S. It is often used in conjunction with medication and is usually covered by insurance.