Researchers in Ireland have announced a technology breakthrough that will help people with drug-resistant epilepsy.

The team at IPIC, the SFI Research Centre for Photonics at the Tyndall National Institute at UCC in Cork, has partnered with Belgium-based preclinical medical device company, Synergia Medical, to develop new technology that could significantly reduce seizures for people with drug-resistant epilepsy.

Their use of photonics has helped create a metal-free neurostimulator that replaces electrically-conducting wires with non-conductive optical fibers to stimulate the vagus nerve — a nerve that originates deep in the brain.

Vagus nerve stimulation applies electrical current pulses to the nerve like a pacemaker does to the heart. This stimulation can reduce and stop epileptic seizures, and improve patients’ quality of life and health outcomes.

It represents a major breakthrough in the treatment of epilepsy because it can be used in MRI systems, which allow for the individual tailoring of the neuro-stimulation treatment.

According to Epilepsy Ireland, more than 40,000 people here are affected by epilepsy, and a third of them have drug-resistant epilepsy. Seizures can have a devastating impact on people’s lives, affecting their work, education, and social life.

But this use of photonics could also be used in other therapeutic applications including depression and anxiety, while research is ongoing into vagus nerve stimulations to help treat chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

Principal investigator at IPIC, Brian Corbett, said the breakthrough again positions Ireland as a center for research excellence in the field of optical powering for medical devices.

He explained: “The science behind the technology is an optical ‘power lead’ utilizing an efficient miniaturized photovoltaic cell subsystem that enables light to be transmitted from a neurostimulator embedded in the body to an electrode, which converts the light to electricity that then powers the electrode.

“This replaces metal cables and thereby makes the system MRI compatible.”

‘Positive impact’

Tyndall CEO, Professor William Scanlon, said they are very proud of the IPIC team’s work.

“Epilepsy is a condition that affects many families across Ireland,” he said. “A member of my own household lives with drug-resistant epilepsy, and so I am acutely aware of the need for new approaches to reducing seizures.

“This technology has the potential to reduce, and in some cases stop, epileptic seizures, which will make an enormously positive impact on the lives of those who suffer from epilepsy, and for their families too.”

Last January, Synergia Medical secured an additional €3.8m in funding, bringing the total to €12.8m, to allow it prepare for the first-in-human clinical trials of this technology in 2024.


Source:, Eoin English