Doctors will soon be able to tell in advance whether or not a patient will suffer an epileptic seizure, following the development of a breakthrough device.

In a world-first study led by Professor Mark Cook, Chair of Medicine at the University of Melbourne and Director of Neurology at St Vincent’s Hopsital, a team of researchers developed a small device which can be implanted between the skull and the brain service to monitor long-term electrical signals to the brain (EEG data).

The team developed a secondary device which would be implanted under the chest, which transmits electrodes recorded in the brain to a hand-held device, which provides a series of lights warning patients of the high (red), moderate (white) or low (blue) likelihood of having a seizure in the hours ahead.

“Knowing when a seizure might happen could dramatically improve the quality of life and independence of people with epilepsy,” said Professor Cook.

The two year study saw the researchers work with 15 people with epilepsy aged between 20 and 62 years, who had experienced between two and 12 sezirues in the previous month, and had not had their seizures controlled with treatments.

For the first month of the trial the system was set purely to record EEG data, which allowed Professor Cook and his team to construct individual algorithms of seizure prediction for each patient.

The system correctly predicted seizures with a high warning, 65 percent of the time, and worked to a level better than 50 percent in 11 of the 15 patients. Eight of the 11 patients had their seizures accurately predicted between 56 and 100 percent of the time.

Epilepsy is the second most common neurological disease after stroke, affecting over 60 million people worldwide. Up to 40 percent of people are unable to control their seizures with existing treatments.

“One to two percent of the population have chronic epilepsy and up to 10 percent of people will have a seizure at some point in their lives, so it’s very common. It’s debilitating because it affects young people predominantly and it affects them often across their entire lifespan,” Professor Cook said.

“The problem is that people with epilepsy are, for the most part, otherwise extremely well. So their activities are limited entirely by this condition, which might affect only a few minutes of every year of their life, and yet have catastrophic consequences like falls, burns and drowning.”