“Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological diseases, affecting 50 million people worldwide. Pharmacological treatment is a widespread approach to fight the disease but for many patients, medication is no help. Epilepsy drugs prove ineffective with 7% to 20% of children ailed by the condition. Drug resistance amongst adults ranges between 30% and 40%. Alternative experimental therapies also have serious drawbacks.
IN-FET project (“Ion Neuromodulation for Epilepsy Treatment”) aims to develop new nanodevices that could be used as brain implants to modulate the electrical activity of the brain at the most fundamental level. This innovative approach could represent a revolutionary method to treat neurological diseases such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s.
Launched in January 2020, the project focuses on ions such as magnesium, potassium and calcium, which are the messengers underlying the communication between nerve cells. These new molecular machines could measure and manipulate the activity of ions and, in particular, their concentration. This would make it possible to modulate and modify cell activity, activating or turning them off depending on the needs. As an example, in epilepsy, we see a hyper-excitability of brain cells, a phenomenon which depends precisely on the flow of ions. The activity of these cells could be modulated thanks to these nanosystems: the devices could work as an ion trap so that they can no longer excite the cells. In Parkinson’s, it could be done in a similar manner, working on neurons that are responsible for the symptoms of the disease.
The project will take an interdisciplinary approach to bring together nanoengineering, information technology and neurobiology. The ambitious initiative is funded by the European programme “Future Emerging Technologies (FET) Open” intended to support cutting-edge research, but with a great impact on science and society. Coordinated by Professor Michele Giugliano, director of the Neuronal Dynamics Lab at SISSA (Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati), the initiative will involve IBM Research, Multi Channel Systems, the Universities of Geneva and Sheffield and the Italian Inter-University Consortium for Nanoelectronics with linked third parties University of Modena and Reggio Emilia and University of Udine.