Sunday, October 1, 2023

Breakthrough in treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy

Use of photonics in neurostimulator removes adverse effects that metal wires can have in MRI systems

People with drug-resistant epilepsy could have the number of seizures they experience reduce – thanks to new technology developed by Irish researchers.

Scientists at IPIC, the SFI Research Centre for Photonics, and Synergia Medical, have been able to create a metal-free neurostimulator, making it suitable for use in MRI systems without the adverse effects associated with metal wires. Using MRI, the level of neuro-stimulation can be tailored to each individual’s requirements.

Based in the Tyndall Institute at University College Cork, the research team replaced electrically-conducting wires with non-conductive optical fibres and appropriate optoelectronics to stimulate the vagus nerve and improve patients’ quality of life and health outcomes. Vagus nerve stimulation applies electrical current pulses on a nerve originating deep in the brain, on a principle similar to pace-makers. This stimulation can reduce and stop epileptic seizures.

“The development of this ground-breaking technology at IPIC again positions Ireland as a centre for research excellence in the field of optical powering for medical devices,” Brian Corbett, Principal Investigator at IPIC, said.

“The science behind the technology is an optical ‘power lead’ utilising an efficient miniaturised photovoltaic cell subsystem that enables light to be transmitted from a neurostimulator embedded in the body to an electrode, which converts the light to electricity that then powers the electrode. This replaces metal cables and thereby makes the system MRI compatible.”

According to Epilepsy Ireland more than 40,000 people in Ireland are affected by epilepsy and one-third of them have drug-resistant epilepsy. Seizures can have a devastating impact on people’s lives, affecting their work, education, and social life.

“This development highlights the world-leading epilepsy research taking place here in Ireland and we would like to congratulate everyone involved in this breakthrough,” CEO of Epilepsy Ireland Peter Murphy said.

“Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological conditions in Ireland, and while most people can become seizure-free, as many as 10,000-15,000 people are still living with uncontrolled seizures. Given the impact that refractory epilepsy can have on all aspects of a person’s life, it’s extremely important that new treatments continue to be developed so that people with epilepsy can have the best possible chance of achieving seizure freedom.”

In January 2023, Synergia Medical announced the successful completion of an additional €3.8 million of Series B funding, bringing the total to €12.8 million. This allows Synergia Medical to prepare for First-In-Human clinical trials planned for 2024.

Researchers now believe that this use of photonics will also ultimately pave the way for use in a range of further therapeutic applications including depression (FDA approved) and anxiety, while research is ongoing into vagus nerve stimulations applicability to chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

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