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Sunday Science: Neuropace Device - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Sunday Science: Neuropace Device

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HANOVER, N.H. -

Neuropace is not a cure for epilepsy, but with this new device, doctors at Dartmouth Hitchcock told us they're seeing dramatic results in patients who previously had no other option.

At first, the Neuropace device sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. A tiny computer, attached to the patient's brain, that can detect and treat epileptic seizures without the patient even knowing it happened.

"It can be programmed to the patient's specific seizures," says Dartmouth Hitchcock Epilepsy Center Director Dr. Barbara Jobst. "So it also needs to be implanted where this specific patient's seizures start because not every patient's seizures are the same."

It's a game changer for epilepsy patients like Mark McKinstry, who don't respond to medications and for whom brain surgery isn't an option. He's now spending less time in the hospital.

"Since the operation, I'm right in and out within seconds of the seizure, says Neuropace patient Mark McKinstry. "Now, rather than falling to the ground while having the larger seizures, now I can just when at home sitting in the chair, no more than my head will drop down and come back up."

When the Neuropace device senses seizure-like behavior, it sends an electrical stimulus, curbing the seizure. It's a new frontier that neurologists say they're excited to explore.

"We have to learn a lot more about stimulation, how we can treat epilepsy but also a lot of other diseases," says Dr. Jobst. "There's now a lot of push in other diseases to treat that with brain stimulation."

In a trial run with 190 patients, those who had the Neuropace device switched on saw a significant reduction in seizures, and the FDA approved it in November. The neurosurgery team at Dartmouth Hitchcock says they now have implanted eight of these devices, and so far they have seen good results.

"This is basically brain activity that is currently recorded right now from his brain," says Dr. Jobst.

Each day at home, McKinstry uses a special wand to download brain activity data from the device and then sends it back to doctors. They say having information from his day-to-day life is invaluable when planning treatments.

"We have never had direct brain data from our patients from our patients like we do here," she says.

And McKinstry says the device means he and his parents don't have to worry as much about him getting hurt during one of his seizures. He says the new independence and peace of mind have been well worth it.

"Prior to the operation I used to see my parents kind-of sneaking out -- peeking out the window to see if I was okay, especially while I was mowing the lawn. Now they're fine," he says.

Doctors also say a key part of this treatment is that the patient doesn't know it happens. So if their seizure starts in the parts of the brain that control movement or language, those functions are not interrupted.

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