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Study taps into technology to help patients with epilepsy

Adult and child hands holding encephalography brain paper cutout, epilepsy

A new study by Mater Research and The University of Queensland will investigate whether smartwatches could help predict seizures for people living with epilepsy.

Looking specifically at how the brain and body react to stress in epilepsy, the study has the potential to help detect and predict seizures better.

Honorary Professor of Neurology at Mater Research and Queensland Brain Institute, Aileen McGonigal, who will lead the study, says chronic stress is known to increase seizure frequency in some people with epilepsy, compromising their quality of life.

“Epilepsy is characterised by the tendency to have recurrent seizures – caused by intermittent disturbances of brain rhythms – that can provoke falls, lack of awareness, even convulsions,” Dr McGonigal said.

“By tracking these brain rhythms, combined with the heart rate variability and electrodermal activity picked up by smartwatches, we hope to capture signatures to individual personalised stress responses and possibly even personalised seizure information.

“These ‘stress signatures’ could be used to refine wearable devices for seizure detection and even alert a patient to periods of high seizure risk.”

The study brings together researchers in biology who are specialists in stress, as well as a clinical team of neurologists and engineers specialised in the detection of the electrophysiological signature of seizures.

The study has been awarded a $40,000 grant in the Bionics Queensland 2022 Bionics Challenge for its potential to change the lives of those impacted by epilepsy.

Bionics Queensland CEO Dr Robyn Stokes said the 2022 Challenge had attracted some of the nation’s brightest minds and innovators, who are committed to redefining the future of medical technology and human bionics for those living with road trauma, disease, disability, and chronic health conditions.

“Professor McGonigal and her team at the Mater Hospital Brisbane delivered a standout project that will change the lives of people living with epilepsy,” said Dr Stokes.

“Bionics Queensland is excited to see more novel technologies emerging to restore or enhance function and help fast-track rehabilitation of those whose lives have been disrupted by traumatic events or intractable health conditions.”

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders in Australia, affecting 150, 000 people, including 30,000 in Queensland. Epilepsy Queensland CEO Chris Dougherty says there is increased demand for assistive technologies such as seizure detection devices.

“The unpredictability of seizures can cause anxiety for a person with epilepsy, offering them some degree of control is a positive step,” Mr Dougherty said.

“The greater self-management people have over their epilepsy, the more empowered they are to live their life, and this study has the ability to give them that.”

Mater is a leader in epilepsy care, with an innovative care model designed to meet the specific needs of patients and their families.

Mater’s Epilepsy Unit has also partnered with Epilepsy Queensland to provide a continuum of care and ongoing support that goes beyond medical management.