Rice University logoGeorge R. Brown School of Engineering
Electrical and Computer Engineering

Rice Researchers To Develop Epilepsy “Pacemaker” 

/uploadedImages/ECE/ECE_Home/People/Faculty/Aazhang_crop.jpgJust like a pacemaker controls abnormal heart rhythms, researchers at Rice University and the Texas Medical Center are seeking to create a device that controls the electrical abnormalities that cause epileptic seizures.

PI Behnaam Aazhang (pictured), PhD, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University, and co-PI Nitin Tandon, MD, adjunct assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice and assistant professor of neurosurgery at UTHealth Medical School, have received a three-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for epilepsy research.

Epilepsy is a brain disorder where clusters of nerve cells in the brain signal abnormally, causing seizures. Around 50 million people worldwide suffer from epilepsy. Roughly 30% of epilepsy patients do not respond to treatment with medication, and the only effective alternative is surgery to remove the seizure onset zone in the brain.

“Surgery carries a risk of impairing or damaging cognitive function, so creating an alternative option is critical to the welfare of millions of patients,” Aazhang said.

Scientists at both institutions will work together to develop algorithms that will optimize the development of an implantable device. The device will deliver low-frequency electrical stimulation to the seizure onset zone. Once the prototype is developed, the group would pursue clinical trials.

“This is the first reparative, real-time, and selective network modulation to treat a debilitating disease,” Aazhang said.

The project will also give undergraduates the opportunity to participate in interdisciplinary, experimental research.

“The work we are doing, jointly as engineers and medical doctors, is truly multidisciplinary,” Aazhang said. “We use signal processing and machine learning ideas and couple that with neurological know-how.”

 -August 2014