Although seizures can be controlled via pharmaceuticals, there are often some unpleasant side effects – plus the medications don't work on all people. According to new research, however, a soft and flexible neurotransmitter-dispensing brain implant may someday do a better job.

Typically, seizures occur when neurons start firing in a specific area of the brain, triggering neighboring neurons to do the same. This causes a chain reaction, which ultimately results in a loss of consciousness or motor control.

That's where the experimental implant comes in. Developed in a collaboration between the UK's University of Cambridge, France's École Nationale Supérieure des Mines, and INSERM (the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research), it contains a naturally-occurring neurotransmitter which stops neurons from firing.

After being surgically inserted into the brain at the location where the seizures originate, the implant uses an array of electrodes to detect the neural signal associated with a seizure. When such a signal is detected, the device responds by activating a built-in ion pump, in which an electric field is used to move a small amount of the neurotransmitter through a semi-permeable ion exchange membrane and into the adjacent brain tissue. There, it proceeds to stop the unwanted neural activity.

In tests conducted on epileptic mice, the implant was shown to be very effective at preventing seizures. Each time it was activated, it only needed to dispense less than 1 percent of its neurotransmitter payload, meaning that it likely wouldn't run out of medication for quite some time. Additionally, the dispensed neurotransmitter was harmlessly absorbed by the brain via natural processes within a matter of minutes, meaning that side effects should be minimal.

That said, it will likely be several years before the technology is available for use in humans, as the scientists are still studying its long-term effects on mice.

The research, which is being led by the University of Cambridge's Prof. George Malliaras, is described in a paper that was recently published in the journal Science Advances.

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