Approximately two million people, including 400,000 children, in the US are being treated for epilepsy, and, despite treatment, one-third continue to have seizures. In response, RTI International, Research Triangle Park, NC, one of the world’s leading research institutes, is working to develop a prototype mobile seizure alert system to help epilepsy patients and their caregivers cope with seizures.

One of their greatest fears is that an unwitnessed seizure may cause serious injury, loss of consciousness, or even death. There are presently no reliable home-based monitoring devices available in the US to assist caregivers with this task, which results in significant stress for those with the disease and their caregivers.

The alert device being developed at RTI contains an array of noninvasive physiological sensors that measure heart rate, respiration, and body orientation. It detects seizures based on physiological effects due to elevated activity of the autonomic nervous system during seizures. The researchers say that the most significant benefit of the device is the potential to decrease the incidence of sudden unexplained death in epilepsy, which is most often an unwitnessed nocturnal event related to a tonic-clonic seizure. Since the monitoring device includes cardiac and respiratory sensors, this could be life saving.

The new grant from the National Institutes of Health will enable the transition of the proof-of-concept demonstration into a fully functional prototype device. RTI will work with the Division of Epilepsy, Neurophysiology, and Critical Care Neurology at Children’s National Medical Center to collect additional data from children admitted to the epilepsy monitoring unit, test the prototype device and identify caregivers that will test the prototype in the home setting.

“This technology is enabled by RTI’s ability to combine hardware solutions with proprietary algorithms to enable non-invasive monitoring of neurological conditions,” said Kristin Gilchrist, PhD, a research engineer and co-principal investigator of the project. “We have a unique ability to solve this complex and important problem."