Diagnosis of epilepsy critically depends on electroencephalography (EEG) machines and specialists trained to manually characterise the acquired brain signals. Clinical-grade EEG machines are immobile, expensive, and rely on dedicated recording rooms where background noise and distractions are minimised and data is stored on servers. Globally, most people with epilepsy live in rural resource-poor areas where these diagnostic and clinical possibilities are lacking. As a result diagnostic work-up is very limited and treatment substandard. Despite proclaiming epilepsy as a neglected disease by World Health Organisation, little improvement has been made over the last decade.
In this project we take up the challenging task to develop a rapid test technology prototype suitable for diagnosing epilepsy in resource poor setting. A rapid test prototype with similar diagnostic power as a standard clinical EEG machine, but highly portable, affordable, easy to use, and presenting the diagnosis by a virtual expert on a smartphone.
This high-aim, high-risk rapid test prototype has truly the potential to lead to a major breakthrough in the way epilepsy is currently diagnosed worldwide. However, there are serious hurdles along the way. The battery-running prototype requires detection of electrical brain signals with comparable quality as a clinical EEG machine. Acquisition needs to be wireless and storable on an off-the-shelf smartphone. Several minutes of raw brain recordings should be accurately characterised by a virtual expert App without user input or Internet connection. The App should provide a proper diagnosis, shortly after the recording, while taking background noise and distractions during the recording into account.
With this prototype we will focus on the most prominent and severe neurological disease in developing countries: epilepsy. The epilepsy diagnostic gap –defined as the percentage of undiagnosed people that could be diagnosed if the tools would be available– is 80-100% in many low-to-middle-income countries. A rapid test for epilepsy diagnosis will be a major breakthrough in the field of global health as it provides a reliable and affordable evaluation. It would replace alternative means of substandard diagnosis, such as use of time-consuming, error-prone seizure calendars, leading to better and effective treatment.
Currently no rapid test is available for any neurological disorder. This prototype will be a true game-changer as it will introduce the concept, ease and cost-effectiveness of rapid tests into the, still very face-to-face-oriented, field of neurology. It will significantly boost the diagnostic and treatment options in a broad range of neurological conditions including headache, dementia, stroke (recovery), movement disorders and multiple sclerosis in places around the world with substandard care systems. Our technological integration has far-reaching implications for the future practice of telemedicine and the way that providers deliver care to their patients.