Wireless ‘pacemaker for the brain’ could treat tremors and seizures in neurological diseases

Written by Olivia Stevenson (Future Science Group)

Engineers from UC Berkeley (CA, USA) have developed a neurostimulator that can monitor and stimulate electric currents in the brain simultaneously; this neurostimulator could potentially lead to new treatment options for individuals with diseases such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s.
Individuals with certain neurological conditions can be susceptible to seizures or tremors. The electrical signatures that occur in the brain to trigger such events are often subtle and can be difficult to monitor. To exacerbate this, the frequency and strength of the electric current needed to prevent them is also difficult to calculate. It can take doctors years to fine tune treatment.

This device, described in a study published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, is known as a wireless artefact-free neuromodulation device (WAND). It monitors electrical activity in the brain and sends electrical stimulation if it detects that something is wrong. The device can adjust stimulation parameters autonomously as it learns to recognize the subtle signs of an impending seizure or tremor. The researchers propose that the WAND chips would be implanted on the outside of the head.

You might also like:

Similar devices that are currently commercially available must either stop monitoring the brains electrical signatures when delivering electrical stimulation, or keep recording, but in a separate part of the brain. One benefit of WAND is that as a closed-loop device – it can stimulate and record simultaneously. This feature allows the neurostimulator to adjust the electrical stimulation it provides in real time, to maximize its ability to prevent tremors or seizures.

“Because we can actually stimulate and record in the same brain region, we know exactly what is happening when we are providing a therapy,” said Ricky Muller, Assistant Professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at UC Berkeley.

Previous closed-loop systems have been able to record electrical activity from only eight channels – or points in the brain – however, WAND can record from more than 128 channels, providing a more comprehensive study of the brain.

Researchers anticipate that this device could be an important part of the development of stimulation-based therapeutic interventions, and with further development may lead to improved treatment of some neurological diseases.

“In the future we aim to incorporate learning into our closed-loop platform to build intelligent devices that can figure out how to best treat you, and remove the doctor from having to constantly intervene in this process,” concluded Muller.

Sources: Zhou A, Santacruz SR, Johnson BC et al. A wireless and artefact-free 128-channel neuromodulation device for closed-loop stimulation and recording in non-human primates. Nat. Biomed. Eng. doi:10.1038/s41551-018-0323-x (2018) (Epub ahead of print); https://news.berkeley.edu/2018/12/31/wireless-pacemaker-for-the-brain-could-be-new-standard-treatment-for-neurological-disorders/