Nonlinear dynamics have proved useful in other medical applications as well, such as defibrillators that correct irregular heartbeats. Medical scientists do not understand exactly how a jolt of electricity restores a normal heartbeat, but it does.
Gluckman's feedback system may be used to investigate some of these questions. The group can change the system's electrical settings to achieve a reverse effect, so it can be used with very precise control to initiate or aggravate seizure-like activity. It can also hold a network of brain cells on the threshold of a seizure.
"Control techniques such as those presented here, especially the ability to maintain the network so close to seizure initiation, may be useful tools to probe such basic mechanisms underlying seizure generation," the group reported.
There are about 2 million epileptics in the United States, most of whom benefit from drugs that control seizures. But about 200,000 do not respond to drug therapy and have few options, one being surgery to remove parts of the brain.
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