brainy med device

University of Houston engineer receives $3.7M to work on seizure-preventing tech

A medical device designed by a UH professor will close the loop with high frequency brain waves to prevent seizures from occurring. Photo via uh.edu

A professor at the University of Houston has received a federal grant aimed at helping stop epileptic seizures before they start.

The BRAIN Initiative at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke awarded the $3.7 million grant to Nuri Firat Ince, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at UH. The grant will go toward Ince's work to create a seizure-halting device based on his research.

According to UH, Ince has reduced by weeks the time it takes to locate the seizure onset zone (SOZ), the part of the brain that causes seizures in patients with epilepsy. He's done this by detecting high-frequency oscillations (HFO) forming "repetitive waveform patterns" that identify their location in the SOZ.

Ince plans to use those HFOs to help control seizures. But he first must determine whether the HFOs can be detected with an implantable closed-loop device, enabling delivery of electrical stimulation that can control seizures. The device is called a brain interchange system. A closed-loop system supplies stimulation only when it detects the onset of a seizure.

Ince's neurotechnology partner, Cortec GMBH of Freiburg, Germany, is supplying the brain interchange system. Houston's Baylor College of Medicine eventually will be the site where medical professionals implant the device in pediatric and adult epilepsy patients.

"If the outcomes of our research in acute settings become successful, we will execute a clinical trial and run our methods with the implanted … system in a chronic ambulatory setting," Ince says in a UH news release.

Research published recently in the journal AJOB Neuroscience found that a closed-loop brain implant being used to treat refractory epilepsy does not alter patients' personalities or self-perception.

Nuri Firat Ince associate professor of biomedical engineering. Photo via uh.edu

"Next-generation brain stimulation devices can modulate brain activity without human intervention, which raises new ethical and policy questions," lead author Tobias Haeusermann of the University of California, San Francisco, says in a news release. "But while there is a great deal of speculation about the potential consequences of these innovative treatments, very little is currently known about patients' experiences of any device approved for clinical use."

The study, however, found no evidence that the device Haeusermann and his colleagues studied had changed patients' personalities or self-perception.

Haeusermann and his fellow researchers based their study on a closed-loop device that's currently available. In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved this brain stimulation system for treatment of refractory epilepsy. It's the first clinically approved and commercially available closed-loop brain stimulation device for epilepsy patients. Refractory epilepsy occurs when medication no longer controls seizures.

According to a research article published in 2018, epilepsy ranks among the most common neurological disorders, affecting about 1% of the global population. For patients who suffer seizures that cannot be treated with drugs, a frequent treatment is surgical removal of the SOZ.

In this country, about 3 million adults and 470,000 children have epilepsy, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including nearly 293,000 Texans. In the U.S., epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder, preceded by migraine, stroke and Alzheimer's disease, the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan says.

About 150,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with epilepsy.

Epilepsy is prevalent among people with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and intellectual disabilities.

About 30 types of seizure occur among the more than 60 types of epilepsy, the Michigan foundation says. A seizure briefly disturbs electrical activity in the braining, causing temporary changes in movement, awareness, feelings, behavior, and other bodily functions.

Daily medication is the standard treatment for epilepsy, according to the Michigan foundation. Still, 30 percent to 40 percent of people with epilepsy continue to experience seizures.

Each year, U.S. health care costs associated with epilepsy add up to roughly $28 billion, according to the American Journal of Managed Care.

"Most people with epilepsy are able to lead productive and fulfilling lives, but for many, epilepsy can be a devastating condition," the foundation says.

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Building Houston

 
 

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity. Photo via Getty Images

Three big businesses — Air Liquide, BASF, and Shell — have added their firepower to the effort to promote large-scale carbon capture and storage for the Houston area’s industrial ecosystem.

These companies join 11 others that in 2021 threw their support behind the initiative. Participants are evaluating how to use safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at Houston-area facilities that provide energy, power generation, and advanced manufacturing for plastics, motor fuels, and packaging.

Other companies backing the CCS project are Calpine, Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Linde, LyondellBasell, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66, and Valero.

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity.

“Large-scale carbon capture and storage in the Houston region will be a cornerstone for the world’s energy transition, and these companies’ efforts are crucial toward advancing CCS development to achieve broad scale commercial impact,” Charles McConnell, director of University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, says in a news release.

McConnell and others say CCS could help Houston and the rest of the U.S. net-zero goals while generating new jobs and protecting current jobs.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from industrial activities that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geologic formations for secure and permanent storage. Carbon dioxide from industrial users in the Houston area could be stored in nearby onshore and offshore storage sites.

An analysis of U.S Department of Energy estimates shows the storage capacity along the Gulf Coast is large enough to store about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to more than 130 years’ worth of industrial and power generation emissions in the United States, based on 2018 data.

“Carbon capture and storage is not a single technology, but rather a series of technologies and scientific breakthroughs that work in concert to achieve a profound outcome, one that will play a significant role in the future of energy and our planet,” says Gretchen Watkins, U.S. president of Shell. “In that spirit, it’s fitting this consortium combines CCS blueprints and ambitions to crystalize Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world while contributing to local and U.S. plans to help achieve net-zero emissions.”

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