Spotting seizures

US scientists have developed a way to help doctors and nurses more easily identify babies at risk from epilepsy.

One way for doctors to be certain whether a newborn is having a seizure is through a diagnostic test called an electroencephalogram, or EEG, which monitors electrical activity through electrodes placed on a patient’s scalp. But the test is expensive, requires a high level of training to interpret and often isn’t readily available in hospitals.

Now scientists at the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida(UF) report that they have found a mathematical way to convert an EEG readout of complex brain wave readings into simple terms to help doctors and nurses more easily identify babies at risk from epilepsy.

They tested their idea by reviewing the EEGs of 35 babies up to a month old, 23 of whom had normal brain function. By using their mathematical technique, they were able to pinpoint the newborns at risk for seizures through differences in key statistical values of brain activity.

“An experienced paediatric neurologist and electroencephalographer could certainly distinguish abnormal from normal newborns by reviewing their EEGs,” said Deng-Shan Shiau, an assistant research neuroscientist at UF’s Brain Dynamics Laboratory.

“However, from my understanding, for patients with lower degrees of severity, abnormal EEG patterns may only be obvious in a few segments in the entire recording. Quantitative EEG analysis may help doctors quickly identify these segments and determine if a neonate is normal,” he added.

The researchers and UF have applied for a patent for the technology. Work thus far has been funded through the American Epilepsy Society and the Epilepsy Foundation.