New York-Cornell Offers Breakthrough Therapy for Epilepsy

"Pacemaker" for the Brain Receives FDA Approval

Oct 30, 1997


An estimated 2.5 million people in the United States suffer the debilitating effects of epilepsy, and for many, an ordinary activity such as driving a car can be dangerous due to the possible onset of seizures. A new breakthrough treatment offered by The Comprehensive Epilepsy Center at The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center may provide many patients with significant improvement in seizure control and an overall better quality of life.

An implantable vagus nerve stimulator, the NeuroCybernetic Prosthesis (NCP) System, recently received FDA approval for the treatment of medically refractory partial onset seizures. It is the first new therapy for epilepsy in 100 years.

"After conducting years of clinical investigation of the NCP System, I have found that patients who have been unable to control seizures with drugs or antiepileptic surgery have experienced up to a 50 percent reduction in seizure occurrence with this therapy," said Dr. Douglas Labar, Director of New York-Cornell's Comprehensive Epilepsy Center.

Research has shown that the stimulation of the vagus nerve, which acts as one of the message carriers to the brain, can disrupt abnormal brain activity responsible for seizures. With the VNS System, physicians implant a "pacemaker-like" device under the skin in the chest area, along with a connecting wire to the vagus nerve on the side of the neck. The NCP System is then preprogrammed to generate intermittent electrical impulses to the vagus nerve. Additionally, when a patient senses a seizure coming on, he or she can activate the system to deliver an additional dose of stimulation by passing a magnet across their chest.

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders characterized by intermittent disturbances in the normal electrical functions of the brain, known as seizures. Manifestations of a seizure include interruption or complete cessation of movement, generalized contraction of the body, decreased responsiveness, loss of awareness of surroundings and complete loss of consciousness.

"This is the future of epilepsy for hundreds of thousands of people who have not found relief from seizures using existing therapies," said Dr. Labar. "We are very proud to offer new hope for a higher quality of life for these patients and their families."

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