Researchers begin work on ‘living brain implant’ for epilepsy management

David Henshall, FutureNeuro
David Henshall, FutureNeuro

Device aims to sense and treat seizures before they happen

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18 February 2021 | 0

Researchers from the Science Foundation Ireland research centre FutureNeuro have been awarded €4.4 million under the EU Future and Emerging Technologies programme to develop an implant that can predict and manage the treatment of seizures in epilepsy.

PRIME (Personalised Living Cell Synthetic Computing Circuit for Sensing and Treating Neurodegenerative Disorders) will draw on neuroscience, computer engineering and synthetic biology to develop a ‘living brain implant’ that senses and treats impending epilepsy seizures.

The programme will build on a significant breakthrough discovery by RCSI collaborators Jochen Prehn and David Henshall who found that increases in transfer RNA (tRNA) fragments, precede seizure onset in some patients.

 

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By understanding the role of tRNA in predicting seizure onset, the research team will aim to develop a biological brain implant that will detect spikes in tRNA and then respond with a seizure-suppressing treatment.

Current treatments based on closed-loop, electronic implants offer ways to reduce seizures in drug-resistant patients but their efficacy is poor and they interrupt seizures only after they begin. 

By using engineered biological cells, PRIME will not have any components that require an energy supply. The implants to be developed by the team can also be personalised by using artificial intelligence to accommodate the different types and levels of seizures experienced by individual epilepsy patients.

The four-year project will be led by Prof Sasitharan Balasubramaniam, an investigator in FutureNeuro and Director of TSSG Centre in Waterford Institute of Technology.

Prof Balasubramaniam said: “The initial focus of the research team will be the detection and treatment of epilepsy, though the project does offer the potential to also treat other neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and certain types of cancer, going forward.”

FutureNeuro Director and Professor of Molecular Physiology and Neuroscience at the RCSI, Prof David Henshall (pictured) added: “The PRIME project represents the very best of FutureNeuro and RCSI research, taking a discovery in patients and working with cutting-edge teams in Ireland and abroad to develop what could be a transformative new technology to provide better seizure control.”

The Irish team will be joined by researchers from the University of Ferrara in Italy, the University of Aarhus in Denmark, Tampere University in Finland and private companies EPOS-Iasis Research and Development in Cyprus and Omiics AS in Denmark.

FutureNeuro is the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for chronic and rare neurological disease, hosted by RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences. Its partner institutions are Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University, National University of Ireland, Galway, Waterford Institute of Technology, University College Cork and University College Dublin.  

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