Approximately 2.3 million adults in the United States have epilepsy. Most of these people are able to control their epilepsy with drugs, but approximately 1/3 of those afflicted are not helped by epilepsy drugs. Brain surgery to extract the part of the brain responsible for epilepsy can relieve seizures completely, but surgery is only an option if the seizures are coming from one or two specific places in the brain, and if those parts can be removed. If seizures are being caused by the parts of the brain that are essential, such as those related to memory and language, surgery is not an option. Approximately 400,000 have cases which fall into this category.
But, help to some of them is on the way! According to a New York Times article in this week’s Science Times, the Food and Drug Administration has just approved a device, called the RNS System, which is implanted into the brain, and helps reduce the frequency of epilepsy. It consists of a battery-powered stimulator which is implanted in the skull, with connections to the relevant areas of the brain. The RNS System senses and records electrical activity in the brain, and responds by delivering an electric stimulation to the parts of the brain related to epilepsy, so as to interrupt brain activity before the seizures happen.The RNS is a huge step forward in the treatment of epilepsy. According to the FDA, in the clinical study for the system, patients with the device turned on experienced a 38 percent reduction in the average number of seizures per month. This shows at once its efficacy and its limitations. The RNS will clearly be a huge help to some patients, but not as much for others. Still, it brings hope to the many epileptics who have been struggling for years with their ailment.