For over a century, scientists have sought to learn more about epilepsy, the most common form of seizure activity in humans. Basically, these seizures are what happen when neurons misfire in response to sudden exposure to light. Arising in discrete regions on either pole of the brain, this neurological disorder effects many people worldwide and can have a drastic impact on their lives. Luckily, it seems that researchers may finally have a way to predict the seizures and even eliminate them altogether.
It’s called optogenics: the science of using genetically modified viruses to insert light-responsive channels into the neurons and then following that up with the use of lasers to reduce and even eliminate TLE, or temporal lobe epilepsy. And thanks to ongoing research, there might just be a way to both predict and shut down these episodes of unwanted neurological activity just as they begin. And ironically, its all through the use of targeted laser light.
The breakthrough came in a recent study by Nature Communications, researchers were able to trigger seizures in mice by treating the hippocampus section of their brains (the part involved in seizure activity). It began with the use of an acid named kainate that is derived from seaweed, which in turn left them susceptible to spontaneously generated seizure activity. Then, through the use of a series of implanted EEG electrodes, the researchers were able to detect signs that seizures were beginning and then shut them off with light.
Naturally, there are concerns about adapting the technique to humans. Not only were the mice specifically engineered for the study, there is also the issue of achieving full optical stimulation in human subjects. To address these issues, a number of solutions are in the works. For example, biocompatible polymer electrodes have been designed to ensure that the genetically-modified virus can be delivered properly to the human brain. In addition, a number of key developers have been working on compact devices that contain hundreds of discrete delivery electrodes that ought to provide the requisite neurological stimulation.
It is research, and it’s ongoing. But the results are encouraging and with ongoing development to adapt it to humans, anti-seizure medical devices are expected to be exploding in the near future. Much like the tiny electrodes used to stimulate brain activity and recollection in a simian, we could be looking at the prototype for a new type of brain implants that addresses and eliminates neurological disorders.