NeuroVista, Emerging from Stealth Mode, Unveils Technology to Predict Epileptic Seizures

7/28/08Follow @xconomy

[Updated and corrected: 1 pm Pacific 9/9/10] NeuroVista has said next to nothing in public about how its technology works, until today. After sitting down for an exclusive interview with CEO John Harris at his office in Seattle’s Fisher Plaza, all I can say is that if its technology is half as good as he envisions, NeuroVista will transform the way people live with severe forms of epilepsy, and possibly other neurological diseases that affect millions of people.

[Correction: An earlier version of the story said NeuroVista was founded in 2005.] The company, founded in 2002, generated curiosity a year ago when it raised $33.8 million in a second round financing led by big-name venture firms like Advanced Technology Ventures, Delphi Ventures, Three Arch Partners, Sprout Group, and Foundation Medical Partners. Harris gave just one interview at the time, and issued a bland statement about improving quality of life for patients with epilepsy, without saying how the product works. “We haven’t even shown this technology to many venture groups,” he says.

So now the big secret can be let out: NeuroVista is developing an implantable device that is designed to predict a seizure before it happens, and can warn a patient to get ready. The concept has tantalized neurologists since the 1970s, because some, but not all, patients can feel a seizure coming on and prepare accordingly. But a systematic warning system has never come close to becoming a reality. If it can be done by detecting a coming storm in the brain’s electrical wave readout (known as an EEG), then patients could stop living in fear, and find a safe place to lie down right before a seizure, or maybe take a fast-acting drug to prevent it.

Or, if such a device could signal when the brain is behaving normally, then patients could feel confident going to work, or going out to a restaurant. An estimated 750,000 people in the U.S. could potentially benefit from such a system, because their seizures aren’t controlled by existing neuro-suppressant drugs, Harris says.

“People have been talking about this since the 1970s, and I wouldn’t say this is proven, but this the best approach I’ve seen,” says Brian Litt, a neurology and bioengineering professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a member of the company’s scientific advisory board. “I decided these guys are coming up with a significant solution, and I can either help them with the concept or watch this bus pass my station.”

So there’s a big dream here, for sure. But how is this thing really supposed to work?

Harris showed me. It starts with a thin wire electrode that a neurologist would insert through the skull onto the surface of the brain to record EEG brain waves (hey, nobody said anything about this being minimally-invasive). The wire would run down the back of the neck … Next Page »

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  • http://whereishawkins.blogspot.com Nick

    Most likely they’re looking at using global dimensional complexity calculations of the EEGs that will give a 15-20 minute warning before onset of a seizure. Or that’s my best guess anyway.

  • http://LymanBioPharmaConsulting Stewart Lyman

    I saw a presentation on this last year and saw one big problem with this approach. I don’t recall all of the details, but as I remember it, in order to collect the EEG data from their subjects with epilepsy, they need to heavily sedate or drug them. It was this data, collected when they are drugged, that was used to derive the algorithms that are supposed to predict the coming attacks. The big question I had was whether or not the data collected when the subjects are drugged accurately mimics what happens in the brain of a real (i.e. non-drugged) epileptic when they are about to have a seizure. If this is not the case, then their algorithms will not be useful in predicting seizures, and the technology will fail. Without this “proof of principle” piece of data I would have concerns about investing in this technology. Please post a correction if I misunderstood this, or if this basic premise has somehow changed since I heard the presentation in 2007. Stewart Lyman, Lyman BioPharma Consulting

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