Fiber-optic light signals may lead to breakthrough epilepsy treatment

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Fiber-optic light signals may be the most advanced new way to stop epileptic seizures, according to new research and developments from neuroscientists at the University of California at Irvine, published recently in the journal Nature Communications.

Ivan Soltesz, chair of anatomy and neurobiology at UC Irvine, used a mouse model of temporal lobe epilepsy to create an EEG-based computer system that activates optical strands implanted in the brain when a seizure is detected. The fibers then trigger light-sensitive proteins called opsins, stimulating or inhibiting neurons in brain regions during a seizure. This could allow researchers to find ways to combat seizures using the light signal technology.

"This approach is useful for understanding how seizures occur and how they can be stopped experimentally," Soltesz said, according to a UC Irvine announcement. "In addition, clinical efforts that affect a minimum number of cells and only at the time of a seizure may someday overcome many of the side effects and limitations of currently available treatment options."

More than 3 million Americans suffer from epilepsy, and in 40 percent of patients, seizures can't be controlled with drugs. According to the study, "optogenetic techniques provide immediate, temporary control of specific cell populations using light-sensitive opsins."

Recently, the use of technology through robots has allowed researchers to explore stimulation therapy to combat chronic pain; it also is being explored for epilepsy research.

Additionally, a study published in Optics Letters highlighted the work of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who developed a "3-D light switch" that can deliver precise points of light to sections of the brain, potentially leading to new treatments for epilepsy and Parkinson's disease.

To learn more:
- read the study
- read the release from UC Irvine

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