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Ground-breaking tech’ developed in Cork could treat drug-resistant epilepsy

Posted on 9 months ago by Laurentina Kennedy

Device may ‘pave the way’ for use of technology in treatment of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s New technology developed at University College Cork could “significantly reduce” seizures for people with drug-resistant epilepsy, researchers have claimed.​

Brian Corbett, left, Ipic researcher at Tyndall, says the 'breakthrough' positions Ireland as a centre for research excellence. Photograph: Tyndall National Institute

Tyndall National Institute, the deep-tech research centre based in UCC, on Monday announced a breakthrough in the development of a new type of neurostimulator, a device similar to a pacemaker that can be implanted in the brain.

Typically made with metal wires, the device stimulates the vagus nerve to reduce or stop epileptic seizures.

The device developed in Cork, however, is metal-free, replacing conductive wires with non-electrically conductive optical fibres, meaning the technology is suitable for use in MRI machines, allowing for more precise stimulation of the nerve without the “adverse effects” associated with metal wires, Tyndall said.

Brian Corbett, a researcher with the Irish Photonic Integration Centre (Ipic), said: “The science behind the technology is an optical ‘power lead’ utilising an efficient miniaturised photovoltaic cell subsystem that enables light to be transmitted from a neurostimulator embedded in the body to an electrode, which converts the light to electricity that then powers the electrode. This replaces metal cables and thereby makes the system MRI compatible.”

Mr Corbett said the breakthrough positioned Ireland as a “centre for excellence” in the use of photonics – the science of light waves – in medical devices. The product of a partnership between Belgian company Synergia Medical and Ipic – Science Foundation Ireland’s centre for the study of photonics hosted by Tyndall – the technology could “pave the way” for the use of optical powering in the treatment of other conditions such as depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, according to researchers.

“Epilepsy is a condition that affects many families across Ireland,” said Professor William Scanlon, Tyndall chief executive. “A member of my own household lives with drug-resistant epilepsy and so I am acutely aware of the need for new approaches to reducing seizures. This technology has the potential to reduce, and in some cases stop, epileptic seizures, which will make an enormously positive impact on the lives of those who suffer from epilepsy, and for their families too.”

Peter Murphy, chief executive of Epilepsy Ireland, congratulated the researchers involved in the “breakthrough” and said it highlighted the quality of research being conducted in the Republic. “Given the impact that refractory epilepsy can have on all aspects of a person’s life, it’s extremely important that new treatments continue to be developed,” he said.

Synergia, which raised €3.8 million in a series B funding round in January, hopes to begin human clinical trials of its technology next year.

This piece was updated on September 4th to correct the Tyndall National Institute chief executive’s name to Professor William Scanlon.