Researchers take key step toward improving lives of people with epilepsy

Researchers in the Oregon State University College of Engineering have taken a key step toward improving the lives of patients with epilepsy by developing a sensor system for quickly testing their saliva to see if they have the correct level of anti-epileptic medicine in their system.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in the Journal of Applied Biochemistry, are important because roughly 3.5 million people in the United States have epilepsy, including nearly half a million children, the authors note.

“With further development, our system could be used to empower epilepsy patients by letting them monitor their anti-seizure drug levels from home,” said Lael Wentland, a postdoctoral researcher at OSU. “From the data our sensor can generate, a personalized drug dosage can be determined, reducing the chances of toxic side effects from too-high doses and seizures from ineffective low doses.”

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by muscle spasms, convulsions and loss of consciousness in addition to seizures, and its negative impacts to physical and mental health are numerous, including a suicide risk that’s much greater than that of the general population.

“It’s exciting to be making progress toward a medical tool that people with epilepsy can use to improve their therapy and quality of life,” said Elaine Fu, an associate professor of bioengineering who co-led the research with Wentland.

Fu, Wentland and fellow Oregon State researchers Stephen Ramsey, Matthew Johnston, Jacob Cook and Jade Minzlaff built and demonstrated a hand-held, microfluidic-based system that can detect a seizure-preventing drug from saliva without the saliva first being subjected to a lengthy pretreatment process.

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