Smiling parents holding young children at beach

Seizure stimulation offers high-tech hope for epilepsy sufferers

September 26, 2015 | Patricia Harriman

Image of RNS implant in patient's skull.

Jorge Portillo experienced his first epileptic seizure when he was nine months old. Over the years, the 36-year-old has endured as many as 50 a month, despite having tried everything possible to stop them.

His epileptic seizures originate in more than one part of his brain, known as generalized seizures, so surgery is not an option because he would be neurologically damaged, and drugs can’t control them.

But a new type of high-tech treatment, called responsive neurostimulation, is giving him hope.

Seizure detection before it happens

In April, Portillo underwent surgery at UC Irvine Medical Center to have a neurostimulation device implanted in his skull. This device is not available anywhere else in Orange County.

During the procedure, neurosurgeon Dr. Sumeet Vadera inserted a small generator, about the size of thumb drive, into Portillo’s skull, and ran two electrodes to the locations in his brain known to cause seizures.

Called the RNS® System, it continuously monitors Portillo’s brain activity. When an abnormal pattern that could lead to a seizure is detected, the system responds with brief pulses of stimulation to help modulate and control the seizures before they happen.

Fewer and shorter epileptic seizures

Portillo is not entirely seizure free, but they are far fewer and much shorter in duration.

Both doctor and patient are very pleased at how well the treatment is working.

Vadera reports that five months after surgery, the rate of Portillo’s seizures has decreased by more than 70 percent. Patients typically experience seizure reduction rates of 40 percent the first year, 50 percent the second year, and as much as 60 percent the fifth year.

Magnet collects data for doctor

The system also includes a magnet, which Portillo swipes over his head every night to collect data from his brain. The information is uploaded and transferred onto a special laptop located in the office of neurologist Dr. Lilit Mnatsakanyan.

Portillo also keeps a diary of how he feels when a seizure does occur, recording the frequency, duration and intensity.

“I have greater sensitivity to when they are going to happen,” he explains. “Sometimes, when I feel one is coming on, if I think of something else, it can help relieve my symptoms.”

From her office, Mnatsaknyan accesses and monitors Portillo’s brain data daily, and if necessary, can make adjustments to the system.  As part of his ongoing treatment, Portillo visits her once a month to review what he has written in his diary and discuss how he is feeling.

“It’s changed my life a lot,” Portillo says. “I can do more things. I have a job and help my mom pay the bills. I have friends and can go out. I am happy because things are different now.”

Related Stories