A new brain implant could deliver anti-epilepsy drugs straight to where they’re needed and, in future, on demand. This will be particularly helpful for the 30 per cent of epilepsy patients who suffer severe side-effects, such as nausea, rashes, weight change and dizziness, from their medication, leaving them unable to be treated.
The implant is a biodegradable polymer that ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science associate Bionics program leader A/Prof Simon Moulton compares to the types of polymers used in dissolvable stitches.
“We’re now at a stage where we can get really nice long-term release over three months,” Simon says. “The holy grail of the project is to develop an implant that delivers drugs for a very long time, reducing the need for repeated invasive brain operations.”
Results from animal trials performed by collaborators at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne are promising—the implant can reduce the number of seizures and their duration. “That gives us confidence that our approach is working,” Simon says. Human trials, though, are still a long way off.
Simon’s team is also seeking ways to treat epilepsy with the minimum possible drug dose and thus to minimise side-effects. “We’re trying to deliver small amounts of drugs in the brain in a way that suits all the people with epilepsy, including that 30 per cent,” he says.
To achieve this, Simon and his colleagues are also developing an implant that will only release the drug when it’s needed—using conducting polymers that would respond to electrical signals in the brain prior to a seizure.
“We want to combine all those properties together and provide on-demand drug delivery in such a way that the patient never experiences a seizure.”