BrainMELBOURNE AUSTRILIA researchers have developed an implantable device to monitor epileptic ­seizures that they hope will work as a “Fitbit” for the brain, helping patients make lifestyle and treatment changes to ­increase their independence.

Based on a cochlear implant, the device is inserted behind the ear with electrodes under the skin of the scalp to ­record the unique “weather patterns” of brain waves that warn of impending seizures.

After successful proof-of-concept animal studies, the team from St Vincent’s Hospital Department of Neurology, Bionics Institute and University of Melbourne are preparing to test the device in humans.

Seizures are hard to diagnose given their infrequency, forcing patients on to trial-and-error medication regimens and curtailing their independence.

Lead researcher Mark Cook was part of a Melbourne team that developed a more invasive version of the monitoring ­device, one implanted in the chest and under the skull.


Promising preclinical studies were published in the ­prestigious journal Lancet Neurology in 2013 but the US-medical device developer, NeuroVista, folded despite the device’s success.

Prof Cook said while there was no shortage of patients wanting to trial the device, the invasive nature of the previous design had scared commercial backers, forcing him to develop the less invasive behind-the-ear design.

(PHOTO Professor Mark Cook is recognised internationally for his epilepsy expertise.)

Prof Cook beat teams of ­researchers from prestigious American universities to take out an international Shark Tank competition in the US, winning the major $125,000 prize to kickstart the $2 million project.

“We’ve discovered there are very complex patterns in seizure activity, like seeing weather patterns,” Prof Cook said.

“When you get that data from enough people you can start making really accurate forecasts. We’re planning on transmitting the data to a smartphone, so the person can see everything going on electrically.

“It will be like a Fitbit in a way. You’ll be able to understand how your seizure activity relates to things you’re doing, and that will make a big difference to how people manage themselves.

“Down the track we’d want to connect this system to treatment systems; whether that’s medication or electrical stimulation. One thing we’ve learnt is if you stimulate before a ­seizure happens, it’s much ­easier to stop.”