This is a story about revolutionary, life-changing potential. And it can be demonstrated with a light bulb, and the blink of an eye.
When Medtronic researcher Duane Bourget blinks his eyes, his brain sends out specific electrical commands. His eyes recognize those commands and obey. So does the attached medical device, but instead, it controls a light bulb. It turns on when he closes his eyes, off when he opens them.
“If I blink and get the line above a certain threshold, that’ll turn the light on,” Bourget said.
So, if we can decode the brain’s electrical orders, what if we could decode its disorders? Could we treat, with medical devices, brain-related problems like depression, Tourette’s Syndrome, or even Alzheimer’s Disease?
We already know electrodes implanted in the brain can relieve the tremors of Parkinson’s Disease. There’s potential that similar therapy might also work for other brain disorders, if we could just find the specific brain wave, among the brain’s billions, that triggers them.
The same device that recognized Duane’s blink may be the key. When implanted in the body, this new technology could not only deliver electricity, but can for the first time also receive and record a patient’s brain signals.
“It’s our first chance to look inside the brain that we don’t know a lot about and put science behind how things are functioning,” said Medtronic’s Scott Stanslaski.
“That’s a game changer,” according to researcher Jeffrey Herron at the University of Washington. His team of engineers at Washington is among nearly 20 research teams around the world, now eagerly studying all this new brain data. They’re trying to find the brain signal that reveals a certain brain disease, and trying to unlock that word “potential.”
“The potential for this technology is so huge that I can’t help but feeling excited when I leave work every day,” Herron said.
It’s not all just science fiction. For example, research is now underway that could someday allow patients to control their medical devices, just by thinking about it.
And other work, toward a device that may someday detect the onset of an epileptic seizure, deliver electricity to the right place in the brain, and stop the seizure before it ever happens.
“Potentially epileptic seizures could be gone. They may occur but they might not exhibit symptoms,” Bourget explained.
And if it all sounds a bit unreachable, it shouldn’t.
"You can’t underestimate learning,” Bourget said. “We don’t know what we’re going to learn. That’s the exciting part. It’s hopeful and it’s exciting and it’s potential.”
After all, the next big discovery could be here, in the blink of an eye.
Research and technology innovations discussed are under development or are in the investigational phase only, and are not currently approved for clinical use or commercialization in the U.S.
Deep brain stimulation therapy is not for everyone. DBS Therapy requires brain surgery which could have serious or even fatal complications. Other complications can occur and may require additional surgery. Medtronic DBS Therapy may cause worsening of some symptoms. For additional safety information, please refer to Indications, Safety and Warnings at http://professional.medtronic.com/pt/neuro/dbs-md/ind/index.htm