Today’s video and Q&A features our first finalist in the 2013 Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) BRIght Futures Prize competition, a research project from Utkan Demirci, PhD, MS.

Taking Control of Epilepsy (Video)

Utkan Demirci, PhD, MS, Division of Biomedical Engineering

What is your research project about?

Epilepsy is a medical condition that affects the brain and causes a person to have seizures. A seizure happens when nerve cells in the brain work abnormally, affecting consciousness or movement. Epilepsy affects 65 million people worldwide and 2.2 million people in the US, including about 60,000 people in Massachusetts. It is most common among the very young and the very old, although anyone can develop epilepsy at any age.

Experiencing seizures or their disabling side effects can severely limit educational achievements, employment prospects, and participation in all of life’s experiences. Seizures can even be life-threatening.

BWH is home to one of the best treatment centers for epilepsy in the country; however, the current treatment procedure can be burdensome for epileptic patients. Medications need to be taken every day, sometimes several times a day. Physicians often use blood tests to measure the levels of medications to be sure the dosage is just right – to prevent seizures without causing drug-related side effects. The problem is that people with epilepsy have to visit a laboratory or hospital for these blood tests. This is difficult, especially because many people with epilepsy are not allowed to drive. Additionally, the timing of blood tests is very important.

Our project seeks to help patients and their doctors take control over when and where these blood tests are done. We are designing a device that patients can use to test their blood at home, which will help their doctors better manage their medications to prevent seizures, emergency room visits, and side effects. The device we are developing could save lives.

What makes your project unique?

Our project will be the first point-of-care test to measure blood levels of seizure drugs. We are designing an easy testing device that adult patients or parents of children with epilepsy can carry in a pocket or purse. This test can be performed anywhere, anytime.

The device contains very tiny sensors called nanoplasmonics – like the ones inspired by the tiny hand-held machines in the “Star Trek” movies. Patients provide a very small drop of blood through a finger prick, like in a glucose meter. The device checks the blood sample and gives results in fewer than 10 minutes. Easy and safe.

How will your research project benefit people?

The device gives results quickly, so when patients call their doctors or nurses for advice on how to manage their epilepsy, they can give these results to their doctor and get help immediately, when they need it.

Our device can improve the quality of life for anyone affected by epilepsy and can even help save lives in emergency settings, such as an ambulance ride or a hospital emergency room.


Everyone – BWH faculty, staff, and members of the public – is encouraged to vote for their favorite research project by visiting Polls are open now and will remain open until 1 p.m. on November 21. The BWH Biomedical Research Institute (BRI) will award a $100,000 philanthropic prize during closing ceremonies at BWH Research Day on November 21 to support the winner’s innovative research.

Tomorrow’s video and Q&A will feature our second finalist in the 2013 BRIght Futures Prize competition, a proposed research project from Daniel Solomon, MD, MPH, and Joel Weissman, PhD.

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