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Breakthrough technology developed in Tyndall at UCC to reduce epileptic seizures

By Irish Pharmacist - 01st Oct 2023

IPIC, the SFI Research Centre for Photonics, and Synergia Medical have developed a ground-breaking tech that could significantly reduce seizures for people with drug-resistant epilepsy.

The technology replaces electrically conducting wires with non-conductive optical fibres and appropriate optoelectronics to stimulate the vagus nerve and improve patients’ quality of life and health outcomes. Vagus nerve stimulation applies electrical current pulses on a nerve originating deep in the brain, on a principle similar to pacemakers. This stimulation can reduce and stop epileptic seizures.

According to Epilepsy Ireland, more than 40,000 people in Ireland are affected by epilepsy, and one-third of them have drug-resistant epilepsy. Seizures can have a devastating impact on people’s lives, affecting their work, education, and social life.

Pioneering use of photonics


The pioneering use of photonics to create a metal-free neurostimulator represents a big breakthrough in the treatment of epilepsy, due to its suitability for use in MRI systems without the adverse effects associated with metal wires. Using the MRI, the level of neuro-stimulation can be tailored to each individual’s requirements. This use of photonics will also ultimately pave the way for use in a range of further therapeutic applications including depression (FDA approved) and anxiety, while research is ongoing into vagus nerve stimulations applicability to chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

Brian Corbett, Principal Investigator at IPIC, says: “The development of this ground- breaking technology at IPIC again positions Ireland as a centre for research excellence in the field of optical powering for medical devices. The science behind the technology is an optical ‘power lead’ utilising an efficient miniaturised photovoltaic cell subsystem that enables light to be transmitted from a neurostimulator embedded in the body to an electrode, which converts the light to electricity that then powers the electrode. This replaces metal cables and thereby makes the system MRI compatible.”

‘Affects many families across Ireland’

Professor William Scanlon, CEO, Tyndall, says: “We are immensely proud that this pioneering technology has been developed by the IPIC team at Tyndall. Epilepsy is a condition that affects many families across Ireland. A member of my own household lives with drug-resistant epilepsy, and so I am acutely aware of the need for new approaches to reducing seizures. This technology has the potential to reduce, and in some cases stop, epileptic seizures, which will make an enormously positive impact on the lives of those who suffer from epilepsy, and for their families too”

Attila Borbath, CEO, Synergia Medical, says: “We are delighted to work with the team at Tyndall. Indeed, to keep up the momentum, we are very pleased that one of the post-doctorate researchers has joined us in Belgium. Our pre-clinical trials have been very successful and we look forward to our future first in human implantation.”

Commenting on the research, Peter Murphy, CEO, Epilepsy Ireland, says: “This development highlights the world-leading epilepsy research taking place here in Ireland and we would like to congratulate everyone involved in this breakthrough. Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological conditions in Ireland, and while most people can become seizure-free, as many as 10,000-15,000 people are still living with uncontrolled seizures. Given the impact that refractory epilepsy can have on all aspects of a person’s life, it’s extremely important that new treatments continue to be developed so that people with epilepsy can have the best possible chance of achieving seizure freedom.”

In January 2023, Synergia Medical announced the successful completion of an additional €3.8m of Series B funding, bringing the total to €12.8m. This allows Synergia Medical to prepare for first-in- human clinical trials planned for 2024.

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