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 Experiments in mice have shown that an implanted electronic device in the brain can detect -- and deliver drugs to stop -- impending epileptic seizures.

Potentially, a similar device might help people with epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and brain tumors who have failed standard treatment. So far, the technology is in the very early stages of development and its clinical applications are years away, the researchers said.

"We can envision devices that are implanted in patients suffering from severe, drug-resistant epilepsy that survey brain activity and deliver drugs to prevent a seizure before it arises," said lead researcher George Malliaras. He is a professor of technology at the University of Cambridge in England.

"This, however, will take several years to bring to the clinic, as there is still a lot of research that needs to take place before the device is safe for use in humans," he added.

The device works by detecting electrical impulses in the brain that signal that a seizure is about to occur. The device then delivers a predetermined dose of a drug that stops the seizure in its tracks.

By delivering an anti-seizure drug directly to a targeted area of the brain, the side effects that can occur when these drugs are given orally can be avoided. Moreover, for about 30 percent of patients, these drugs aren't effective in preventing all seizures, Malliaras said.

In the study, the researchers used a neurotransmitter that acts at the source of the seizure, signaling brain cells to stop firing and ending the seizure. The drug is sent to the specific part of the brain by a probe that has a tiny pump and electrodes to monitor brain activity.

When a signal of a seizure is detected by the electrodes, the pump is activated and moves the drug out of the device.

Malliaras and his colleagues found that seizures could be prevented with very low doses of the drug -- less than 1 percent of the amount of drug loaded into the device. So, the device should be able to operate for extended periods without needing to be refilled.

Furthermore, the drug is absorbed by the brain within minutes, which should reduce side effects, the study authors said.

Study co-author Adam Williamson, from the Institut de Neurosciences des Systemes at Aix-Marseille University in France, is cautiously optimistic. The nature of the experiment was such that many obstacles have to be overcome before the device could be tried in humans, he said.

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