Using Electrodes to Treat Epilepsy

March 27, 2014

An implanted battery-powered device, called the RNS System, can effectively treat the estimated 400,000 Americans who suffer from epilepsy untreatable by drugs. 

“This is the first in what I believe is a new generation of therapy for epilepsy,” said Dr. Dileep R. Nair, head at the Cleveland Clinic of adult epilepsy and a researcher for the RNS (responsive neurostimulator) device. “It’s delivering local therapy. It’s not taking tissue out; the brain is left intact. And it’s unlike a drug, which is a shotgun approach.”

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Wires deliver electric signals to places in the brain, preventing a full-on seizure.

This is how it works. Before the RNS is turned on, the patient’s unique seizure patterns must be detected. This can take months and multiple clinic visits. Then, the intensity of the stimulation must be finely tuned and the number of pulses altered to see if it reduces the patient’s seizures.

Requiring a battery change every two to three years, the RNS works only for those with seizures that start in a specific place in their brain. Wires implanted directly to those places propagate electrical stimulation to help prevent an occurring seizure from spreading.

In their study, investigators at the privately-held company Neuro Pace in California ran a randomized clinical trial with 191 volunteers. Half unknowingly received the electrical stimulation, while the other half did not. The half with stimulators reported a nearly 40 percent reduction in seizures over the three month period, while the other half experienced a 17 percent decrease. Afterwards, over the course of 2 years, with the devices turned on 90 subjects experienced a decrease in seizures by 50 percent or greater.

The RNS can reduce the frequency of disabling seizures with no mood or cognitive effects. This can improve the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people suffering from epilepsy. 


Alec Schwartz
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Major
Dickinson College
Class of 2016




Morrell MJ; RNS System in Epilepsy Study Group. (27 Sep 2011). Responsive cortical stimulation for the treatment of medically intractable partial epilepsy. Neurologydoi:10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182302056

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