How the “brain pacemaker” works that promises to stop the tremors and convulsions of Parkinson’s and epilepsy

How the “brain pacemaker” works that promises to stop the tremors and convulsions of Parkinson’s and epilepsy

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In the world more than six million people suffer from Parkinson’s, whose most visible symptom is tremors. It is the second most frequent neuro-degenerative disease after Alzheimer’s.

Another 50 million have epilepsy , which is characterized by seizures. It is, according to the World Health Organization, one of the most common neurological disorders.

But now a new device called WAND opens the door to the hope of those affected by these two neurological diseases, as it promises to be “extremely effective” in preventing unwanted movements , namely tremors and seizures.

This neurostimulator, developed by scientists at the University of California at Berkeley, is able to control brain electrical activity and, simultaneously, provide current to stimulate certain regions of the brain if it detects that there is an abnormality.

Hands senior man.
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption Parkinson’s is the second most frequent neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s.

Defined as a “wireless device of neuromodulation without artifacts” (in English wireless artifact-free neuromodulation device ), the WAND monitors the brain activity in 128 points at the same time , something that differentiates it from the existing devices until now, which came to detect only eight signs.

“We want the chip to know what is the best way to stimulate the brain of a given patient, and that can only be done by monitoring and recording their neural activity,” explained Rikky Muller, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Berkeley. .

Necessary adjustments

The electrical signals that precede a tremor can be extremely subtle, so the frequency and intensity of the electrical stimulation required to prevent it are delicate.

And, to test the effectiveness of the neurostimulator, the research team used it to identify and delay the movement of an arm in primates.

Epilepsy encephalogram.
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption 50 million people worldwide suffer from epilepsy.

WAND is wireless and autonomous, which means that when it learns to identify tremor signs it adjusts the electrical stimulation parameters on its own to prevent unwanted movements.

“In the future, our goal is to create smart devices that can discover the best way to treat the patient and prevent the doctor from having to constantly intervene in the process,” Muller said.

The engineering team expects to work with doctors in the next few years to make the “small adjustments” necessary to give an optimal treatment, although they warn that there are still years to be able to market the device.

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