January 26, 2022

Yale Researchers Receive Grant to Develop Novel Epilepsy Brain-Computer Chip Treatment

Article appeared in Yale Daily News

An interdisciplinary team of Yale researchers has designed brain-machine interface chips that, when implanted in humans, can reduce the rate of epileptic seizures.

More than three million people experience epileptic seizures in the United States, with 60 to 70 percent of patients able to successfully treat the condition with medicine. For the remaining individuals, surgically removing the parts of the brain where seizures arise, regardless of their role in everyday function, has been the only path toward mitigating the issue. A team of Yale computer scientists, engineers and surgeons have found that short-circuiting the path neurons fire during an epileptic seizure can successfully reduce the rate of seizures in patients. The Swebilius Foundation recently awarded the team a grant to continue its research.

“When the signature traits of a seizure are observed, the device stimulates that part of the brain, and it is not curative, but over time 60 percent of patients will get 50 percent fewer seizures than they had before,” said Dennis Spencer, professor emeritus of neurosurgery, who implants these brain-computer interface chips in patients.

The team is still working to increase the success rate. Currently, each chip contains two electrodes with four contacts. When attempting to short-circuit a seizure, a surgeon can only stimulate the brain on the linear path between those two electrodes.

The chips are uniquely targeted, both spatially and temporally, making them superior to medication or surgery for seizures that extend into critical regions of the brain. However, the chips’ targeted nature makes them inadequate in many cases when seizures follow a network of connections, moving quickly around the brain.