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Smartphone-Based Sensor Gives Early Epilepsy Warning

Epitect sensor

The Epitect sensor is worn in the ear and connects to a smartphone (Rainer Surges, University Hospital Bonn)

8 April 2016. An academic and business consortium in Germany is developing a small sensor worn in the ear that detects and warns of seizures in people with epilepsy. The 3-year Epitect project to develop the system, including smartphone software and cloud-based analytics, is led by University Hospital Bonn and supported with €2 million ($US 2,270,000) from the German Federal Ministry of Research.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder where nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed, causing seizures with symptoms ranging from blank stares to tingling sensations to loss of consciousness. World Health Organization estimates some 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy, where in many cultures people with the condition face stigma and discrimination. While epilepsy can be treated in most cases, WHO says as many as 30 percent of episodes do not respond to treatment.

The device under development by Epitect team, coordinated by consulting research scientist Rainer Surges, aims to give people with epilepsy, and their families and physicians, more advance notice of a seizure, as well as a better record of their occurrence and severity. Major episodes can be detected with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, where sensors attached to the skull record electrical signals in the brain. An EEG test, however, requires a hospital or out-patient visit.

The new device is designed to fit inside the ear, like an earbud. Surges notes in a university statement that a preliminary study found, “epileptic seizures can be detected very well via an accelerated pulse and certain patterns of movement.” Project partner Cosinuss GmbH in Munich already develops health sensors for athletes worn in the ear that measure vital signs.  The Epitect device earbud is expected to be smaller than those now offered by Cosinuss.

The earbud connects to a smartphone, where software relays the signals to a cloud-based system that detects abnormalities and alerts the user, family members, and if necessary the individual’s physician. This earlier warning should, in many instances, give the user more time to leave potentially dangerous situations, or in more serious situations, get medical help faster. The device will be designed for adults as well as children.

In addition to giving earlier warnings of seizures, the Epitect device is expected to improve the quality of life for people with epilepsy. “Epilepsy patients are often afraid of unpredictable seizures in public,” says Surges, adding that the device should give people with the condition more autonomy, and free family members from full-time monitoring of individuals.

The Epitect system should likewise provide more reliable data for clinicians and researchers. The device is expected to provide a better record of seizure frequency and intensity, which should improve assessments of an individual’s condition. The device should also be useful for recording epilepsy episodes in clinical trials of new treatments.

Joining University Hospital Bonn and Cosinuss GmbH in the project are Fraunhofer Institute for Software and Systems Technology ISST in Dortmund, Department of Neuropediatrics of the University of Kiel, North German Epilepsy Center in Schwentinental-Raisdorf, University for Healthcare Professions in Bochum, and Epilepsy Bundes-Elternverband e.V. or National Epilepsy Parents Network in Wuppertal.

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