New device offers hope to drug-resistant epilepsy patients

New device offers hope to drug-resistant epilepsy patients
New device offers hope to drug-resistant epilepsy patients

HOUSTON – Michael Francis had uncontrolled, drug-resistant seizures. He wasn’t able to work, he couldn’t have a license to drive and he said it was starting to take away part of his identity.

“You know, former law enforcement, I was a trained driver as part of my job,” Francis said.

He was diagnosed with epilepsy in 1999. Then, when a brain implant was FDA-approved in 2010, Francis jumped at the opportunity.

A nine-year study on patients like him shows the device works well to control seizures. In Francis’s case, he said he’s seizure-free.

The device is called the RNS System.

Here’s how it works:

  • It’s surgically implanted on the brain
  • It begins recognizing the pattern and location of seizures
  • It sends a signal to make them stop

“It’s a smart device that’s actually learning about the brain activity and over time we are fine-tuning the detection, so it can be very sensitive and also discriminatory from the normal brain activity,” said Dr. Alica Goldman, Baylor College of Medicine Associate Professor Neurology-Neurophysiology.

Goldman said the longer the device stays in, the better it gets at recognizing and controlling seizures. Patients typically still need medication, but in general, she said they need less.

Francis has now regained a good quality of life and independence back.

“It’s been such a wonderful improvement,” Francis said. “Having enough of a level of control that I can have my driver’s license back and take care of myself, that has been without a doubt the best thing for me.”

This device, according to Dr. Goldman, works best in someone whose seizures are in one location in the brain. Someone whose seizures are coming from several spots might not be a good candidate for this device.

According to one article in Scientific Amercian, similar devices are also being studied in patients with severe depression.