June 26, 2023

Silicon Nose: Small Sensor “Smells” Incipient Seizures 

Article published by NewsWise

In people with epilepsy, seizure-alert dogs can smell small changes in body chemistry and warn of an impending seizure an hour or more before it occurs. Inspired by this feat of nature, a team of researchers has sniffed out a way to replicate the ability with technology. 

Sandia National Laboratories and research partner Know Biological have developed a miniaturized sensor system that can detect the specific gases released from the skin of people with epilepsy before a seizure. 

The Sandia-designed device was able to sense the key gases from gauze swiped on a patient’s skin 22 minutes before the onset of a seizure, said Gary Arnold, CEO and founder of Know Biological. 

For people who have epilepsy, knowing they will have a seizure in advance gives time to take medication that can halt most seizures or, at the very least, to get somewhere safe and private. 

“A friend of mine has epilepsy,” Arnold said. “He told me that having a seizure is horrible but that it’s not the worst part of epilepsy. The worst part of epilepsy is never knowing when you’re going to have a seizure. The psychological impact of that uncertainty is overwhelming.” 

Arnold and academic collaborators wanted to know how seizure-alert dogs knew when a seizure was imminent. They identified the presence of several key volatile organic compounds, gases responsible for everything from the smell of fresh-cut grass to the odor of drying nail polish. They discovered that seizure-alert dogs know when a seizure is imminent because they smell the change in body chemistry. 

“We were able to identify a bouquet of eight VOCs that were unique to seizures,” Arnold added. “Of those, three VOCs were considered principal, appearing in every sample taken from someone having a seizure. These VOCs start building in concentration prior to seizure onset.”