While many with epilepsy can at least partially control their seizures with medications, approximately one-third of patients’ seizures are uncontrollable.
There are currently very few options for those with uncontrollable seizures. Some try strict diets, which can sometimes help. Others resort to brain surgery, which is only available to those whose epilepsy is centered in a “disposable” part of the brain. The side effects for those who can get surgery can include memory loss, motor skill and language problems, double vision, partial paralysis, and even increases number of seizures (MayoClinic). Those whose seizures continue, unchecked, through every therapy have little hope for a normal life.
In 1997, the Vagus Nerve Stimulator (VNS) was approved. This implant sends out deep brain stimulation at scheduled intervals, and can decrease seizures in some patients. The brain stimulation can break the patterns of seizures, and in the user feels a seizure coming on they can trigger the device manually. The VNS, while a huge step, has become outdated. It cannot predict seizures, and a third of its users still show no improvement. Another third had their seizure frequency reduced by less than half.
This year, a new contender has been approved by the FDA. The NeuroPace RNS System is a brain implant that can detect abnormalities in the brain signaling an oncoming seizure and send out electrical stimulation to help normalize it. The RNS system is similar to the VNS, but instead of sending out signals at scheduled intervals, it continuously monitors the brain and only sends out signals when needed. The longer it stays in the brain, the more data it has and the better doctors can program it to detect specific seizure patterns.
In addition to helping up to 400,000 people (according to NeuroPace), the RNS system has the ability to further research in the field of epilepsy. The RNS system is constantly recording brain activity, the history of which can be looked at on a computer by a doctor at any time. This means doctors and researchers have a window into the brains of those with the most stubborn forms of epilepsy.
Those who participated in the two-year study of the RNS system yielded positive results. After only three months, 29 percent of participants saw their amount of seizures drop by half. After two years, 55 percent of the subjects saw the same drop. This device could not only improve hundreds of thousands of lives, but help uncover more of the countless mysteries of the human brain.