‘Defibrillator for the brain’: Implant could prevent epileptic seizures in autistic children

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Pre-op pep talk: Kevin Lightner gets support from his father before his experimental epilepsy surgery. Image: William Mebane/Spectrum

Kevin, who has autism and has had seizures since he was 8 years old, lies uncharacteristically still in the center of the room, draped under a blue sheet, his tiger-print pajamas neatly folded on a nearby shelf.

What’s happening in this room may be the last chance to bring Kevin’s seizures under control.

The implant, a “responsive neurostimulation device,” is now transmitting signals from the electrodes planted in Kevin’s thalamus. The surgeons’ hope is that the device will learn to recognize what kind of brain activity precedes Kevin’s seizures and discharge electrical pulses to prevent them—like a “defibrillator for the brain,” as [neurosurgeon Saadi] Ghatan puts it.

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As he and others chart the outcome of these surgeries, though, they might learn how autism and epilepsy are related, a lingering question in the field: About one in four autistic children older than 13 also has epilepsy; conversely, having epilepsy increases the chance of an autism diagnosis roughly 10-fold. A preponderance of evidence suggests the two conditions have common genetic origins. But does epilepsy cause autism or at least alter its course? These surgeries might answer that question.

Read full, original post: Can Preventing Seizures Alter the Course of Autism?

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