Epilepsy, a neurological disorder affecting around 50 million people around the world (or 1% of the global population), is a chronic condition prevalent among approximately 6 million individuals in Europe. Its causes range from neurovascular pathologies, genetics and head trauma to viral infections, or complications during prenatal development. The majority of epilepsy patients are older than fifty years – and also acquire epilepsy after the age of fifty years – which has been referred to as “late(r)-onset epilepsy”. Importantly, patients with late(r)-onset epilepsy have a significantly increased risk of developing dementia. Current research indicates that late(r)-onset epilepsy and sleep disorders might be modifiable risk factors for neurodegeneration.
Epilepsy is characterized by recurring spontaneous seizures that are challenging to predict and often to control. Accurate monitoring of brain activity during seizures plays a vital role in diagnosing and effectively managing epilepsy, enabling tailored treatment plans for each individual. Typically, epilepsy patients must make multiple visits to clinics and medical offices for care. Diagnostic tests often rely on specialized and costly equipment, such as electroencephalogram (EEG) devices, which are only available in clinical settings. This typically non-invasive procedure involves placing electrodes on the scalp to detect and record the brain's electrical signals. For extended monitoring periods (24/7 including during sleep), wearable devices are utilized to continuously track electric brain activity, providing comprehensive seizure data. “Due to the levels of stigmatization still experienced by individuals with epilepsy, there is an urgent demand for inconspicuous solutions that allow for longitudinal monitoring of neurological disorders in real-world environments,” explains Prof. Kaspar Schindler, Director of the Sleep-Wake-Epilepsy Center and NeuroTec at the Department of Neurology of the Inselspital, University Hospital Bern.
Medical limitations in addition to individual discomfort
Despite significant advancements, EEG monitoring still faces notable medical limitations. One of these limitations is that both daytime EEG and sleep studies are performed in artificial conditions, which can potentially mask or amplify clinically significant findings. Moreover, factors like movement or muscle activity can affect EEG readings, leading to false results or the omission of seizure events. Obtaining accurate measurements of the disorder’s dynamics often necessitates repeated monitoring, but factors such as budget constraints, logistical challenges, and geographical distances may hinder regular visits to healthcare professionals. Moreover, current wearable devices used for monitoring may cause discomfort or skin irritation due to the gel electrodes and they require frequent battery charging and are difficult to handle by patients, in particular those who have cognitive impairments.
Placing the patients’ comfort at the center of the solution
As part of a collaborative research program CSEM and the Department of Neurology of the Inselspital, University Hospital Bern created the ULTEEM (ultra-long-term EEG monitoring) solution to address this unmet medical need. Their aim was to develop a less obtrusive technology, based on CSEM’s active dry electrode patents. For the initial daytime application of the ULTEEM solution, the interdisciplinary team successfully integrated CSEM’s dry electrodes into a new device comprising two sensors that can be clipped onto any metallic glasses frame. The device enables sensor connection through a single wire, which does not necessarily require shielding or insulation (Cooperative Sensors). Despite the simplified connection of the metallic frame of the eyeglasses which serves as single wire, the signal quality remains consistently strong.