EEG tool diagnoses baby seizures

A multidisciplinary team of clinicians, scientists and engineers at University College Cork (UCC) has developed a system that can analyse EEG data to help clinicians identify brain injury and seizures in newborn babies.

The only accurate technique available for diagnosing all seizures in babies is the EEG, which records electrical brain activity using small electrodes placed on the scalp. But highly specialised technical and medical personnel are then required to interpret the results.

Most neonatal units in Europe lack this expertise and have to rely on clinical judgement alone to diagnose seizures, which is known to be inaccurate. ’It was therefore imperative to develop a seizure-detection system that was simple to operate, easy to interpret and that provided reliable, accurate information,’ said Dr Gordon Lightbody of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

Through SFI and Wellcome Trust funding, the team first developed a signal-processing system that could analyse the data from an EEG to help medical staff identify seizures in newborn babies without the need for an expert to interpret the results.

UCC’s Dr Liam Marnane and his team then developed the technology further for adult seizure detection through an SFI Strategic Research Cluster grant. This allowed the group to develop an ambulatory system that allows patients suspected of epilepsy to be monitored in their own home.

’Early detection of seizures will allow prompt and effective treatment and should translate into better long-term neurological outcome for the smallest and most vulnerable members of the population,’ said Dr Geraldine Boylan, School of Medicine at UCC.

Seizures are more common in the neonatal period than during any other time throughout life. The incidence of seizures in babies born at full term (40 weeks) is 1.5-3.0 per 1,000 births and the incidence is even higher in premature babies, ranging from 50 to 150 per 1,000 live births.

’These figures are probably inaccurate as they only include the seizures that can be observed,’ said Dr Boylan.

The EEG Seizure Detection system was a collaboration between UCC’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and the School of Medicine, involving Dr Stephen Faul, Dr Andrey Temko, Dr Liam Marnane, Dr Gordon Lightbody and Dr Geraldine Boylan.