"One of the most disabling aspects of having epilepsy is the seeming randomness of seizures," said study senior author Vikram Rao, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of neurology at UCSF and member of the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences. "If your neurologist can't tell you if your next seizure is a minute from now or a year from now, you live your life in a state of constant uncertainty, like walking on eggshells. The exciting thing here is that we may soon be able to empower patients by letting them know when they are at high risk and when they can worry less."
Epilepsy is a chronic disease characterized by recurrent seizures -- brief storms of electrical activity in the brain that can cause convulsions, hallucinations, or loss of consciousness. Epilepsy researchers around the world have been working for decades to identify patterns of electrical activity in the brain that signal an oncoming seizure, but with limited success. In part, Rao says, this is because technology has limited the field to recording brain activity for days to weeks at most, and in artificial inpatient settings.
At UCSF Rao has pioneered the use of an implanted brain stimulation device that can quickly halt seizures by precisely stimulating a patient's brain as a seizure begins. This device, called the NeuroPace RNS® System, has also made it possible for Rao's team to record seizure-related brain activity for many months or even years in patients as they go about their normal lives. Using this data, the researchers have begun to show that seizures are less random than they appear. They have identified patterns of electrical discharges in the brain that they term "brain irritability" that are associated with higher likelihood of having a seizure.