Department of Neurology

Device Helping Stop Seizures in Epileptics

By Tony Cappasso, Staff Writer, State Journal Register
Springfield IL USA

Article reprinted on the SIU Web pages with permission from the State Journal Register

Brad Humphrey, 24, can't remember the different types of seizures he used to have. That's because he's having none these days.

Not bad for a guy who at one time was having up to 12 seizures a day.

What made the difference?

A new electronic device that sends an electrical impulse to Humphrey's brain, blocking a seizure from even starting, said Dr. Dean K. Naritoku, Associate Professor of Neurology and head of the Center for Epilepsy at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

Used together with anti-seizure drugs, the device keeps Humphrey seizure free.

The device, called the NeuroCybernetic Prosthesis System or NCP, is about the size of a cookie - it fits easily in the palm of a hand.

Potentially, said Naritoku, it could help nearly 3,000 epileptics in central Illinois.

Here's how it works:

The heart of the system is a microprocessor that can be preset to give bursts of electricity at specific frequencies and intervals.

Wires - called "leads" - carry this impulse to the vagus nerve, which arises in the back of the brain and carries impulses fromthe brain to numerous parts of the body, including the heart, lungs, and digestive organs.

During studies of epileptics, said Naritoku, researchers learned that stimulating the vagus nerve changed brain electrical activity.

Since epileptic seizures arise as electrical activity in the brain, researchers thought stimulating the vagus might affect seizures in epileptics.

With the prosthesis system, doctors use the vagus nerve to send signals back to the brain, Naritoku said.

Naritoku had been in on studies of the device since 1990. He remains the only doctor between Chicago and Kansas City who's treating patients with the NCP, he said

The FDA approved the device for use in epileptics in July.

Brad Humphrey had his first seizure in September, 1994, following surgery nine months earlier to remove an abnormal tangle of blood vessels in his brain.

"The surgeon had warned me that it might lead to seizures," Humphrey said. "They put me on medication right away, just as a precaution," he said.

But the worst happened anyway.

Humphrey said at one point he was having up to 12 seizures a day, despite taking two anti-seizure medication.

Trained as a teacher, Humphrey couldn't find work, since his seizures were's under control. Side effects from the drugs complicated matters further. "They caused lots of drowsiness," he said.

Humphrey began seing Naritoku in late 1995, while the NeuroCybernetic Prosthesis System was still being tested. In February, 1996, Naritoku implanted the device under the skin beneath Humphrey's collar bone.

Almost immediately, Humphrey said, his seizures diminished. Finally, they stopped altogether.

The device is programmed to send an electrical impulse up Humphrey's vagus nerve for 5 seconds every 7 minutes, Humphrey said.

The only side effect he notices is a slight hoarseness in his voice while the device is discharging.

That's not unusual, said Naritoku, because branches of the vagus nerve go to the vocal chords.

Since the NCP was implanted, he's had only one seizure - last March - because he'd forgotten to take his medication, Humphrey said.

He's down to only one epilepsy medication, Tegretol, since the device was implanted, and he needs less of it, he said.

"One of my main goals with getting on the device was to reduce my medication, and it worked very well," Humphrey said.

Even better, siad Humphrey, he's been able to work regularly as a substitute teacher.

"I used to hae a lot of trouble making it through a day without falling asleep or being overly tired,: Humphrey said.

"But I was able to substitute (teach) all last spring, mostly in junior high," he said.

Humphrey said he's not even aware most of the time that the NCP is there, beneath his skin.

"The only time I feel it is when my wife hugs me."