Scientists at Linköping University in Sweden describe a novel method to detect epilepsy at its source in a single cell. The technology could ultimately stop epileptic seizures before they even start.
The report, “Bioelectronic neural pixel: Chemical stimulation and electrical sensing at the same site,” was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Epilepsy is commonly treated with medications, but these have side effects and are not always effective for preventing seizures. Halting the development of a seizure would be a desirable treatment for epilepsy as well as a great improvement over current drugs for the neurological condition.
Neurons are the information-processing cells of the brain and nervous system and are usually hyperactive during an epileptic seizure. The use of a device called a neural pixel can detect neuron overactivity and also suppress it exactly at its origin.
The treatment is, in a sense, what is called a magic bullet, a sought-after goal that acts only on the affected region of the body. Drugs cannot act as magic bullets because they pass through many bodily systems other than the one they are intended to treat, which can sometimes lead to harmful unwanted effects.
“Our technology makes it possible to interact with both healthy and sick neurons. We can now start investigating opportunities for finding therapies for neurological illnesses that arise so rapidly and so locally that the patient doesn’t notice them,” the study’s principal author, Prof. Daniel Simon, said in a press release.
The researchers studied the device in brain slices from mice. The neural pixel senses neuron activity and then doses small amounts of the natural brain chemical GABA, a substance that shuts down neuron communication.
“The same electrode that registers the activity in the cell can also deliver the transmitter. We call it a bioelectronic ‘neural pixel,’ since it imitates the functions of biological neurons,” Simon said.
“Signaling in biological systems is based on chemical signals in the form of cations, which are passed between transmitters and receptors, which consist of proteins,” said Prof. Magnus Berggren, a co-author of the study.
“When a signal is transferred to another cell, the identification of the signal and the triggering of a new one occur within a very small distance — only a few nanometers. In certain cases, it happens at the same point. That’s why being able to combine electronic detection and release in the same electrode is a major advance,” Berggren said.
The device is made from plastic that is not rejected by the body’s immune system. Ultimately, the technology may be implanted in whole animals and hopefully humans, to act as a therapy that prevents epilepsy.