Researchers from MIT and Harvard have recently been testing a better way to analyze epileptic seizures that doesn’t require an EEG cap or an invasive implant.
Sympathetically mediated electrodermal activity has been suggested as containing enough information to profile a seizure. So the research team, doing a study at Children’s Hospital Boston, has shown that using a wrist worn watch-like sensor that measures the electrical conductance in the skin is as effective as EEG in determining the severity of a seizure.
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The realization that the wrist sensors might be of use in treating epilepsy was something of a fluke. “We’d been working with kids on the autism spectrum, and I didn’t realize, but a lot of them have seizures,” Picard says. In reviewing data from their autism studies, Picard and her group found that seizures were sometimes preceded by huge spikes in skin conductance. It seemed that their sensors might actually be able to predict the onset of seizures.
At the time, several MIT students were working in Picard’s lab through MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP); one of them happened to be the daughter of Joseph Madsen, director of the Epilepsy Surgery Program at Children’s Hospital. “I decided it was time to meet my UROP’s dad,” Picard says.
In a project that would serve as the basis of Poh’s doctoral dissertation, Madsen agreed to let the MIT researchers test the sensors on patients with severe epilepsy, who were in the hospital for as much as a week of constant EEG monitoring. Poh and Picard considered several off-the-shelf sensors for the project, but “at the time, there was nothing we could buy that did what we needed,” Picard says. “Finally, we just built our own.”
“It’s a big challenge to make a device robust enough to withstand long hours of recording,” Poh says. “We were recording days or weeks in a row.” In early versions of the sensors, some fairly common gestures could produce false signals. Eliminating the sensors’ susceptibility to such sources of noise was largely a process of trial and error, Picard says.
Abstract in Neurology: Autonomic changes with seizures correlate with postictal EEG suppression
MIT statement: Gauging seizures’ severity…