ABU DHABI // A hi-tech medical patch being developed in Abu Dhabi should soon help epileptics avoid long stays in hospital.
The 50fil adhesive microchip, the work of a researcher at the Masdar Institute, monitors epileptic seizures.
It will allow doctors to keep a close eye on patients for up to two weeks without the need for them to stay in hospital attached to a cumbersome and uncomfortable electroencephalograph (EEG) machine.
It would be applied to the forehead and is expected to be smaller in size than three grains of rice.
Currently, doctors often have to rely on patients' own descriptions of their seizures. But their recollections of events under such circumstances are notoriously unreliable.
The chip, which detects rapid eye movements - the early sign of an epileptic seizure - will give doctors a far more accurate picture of what happened, from the length of an attack to its severity.
The patch is the work of Dr Jerald Yoo, a circuit designer at the Masdar Institute, jointly funded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.
About 50 million people worldwide suffer from epilepsy. While no exact figure exists for the UAE, it is believed to be about 2 to 3 per cent of the population - more than 100,000 people.
Dr Yoo said the patch would be especially useful for children or babies, who cannot express what they have suffered.
The chip can also record seizures while asleep, of which patients might not even be aware.
"Doctors need to see raw information and data with their own eyes so they can make the right decisions, diagnoses and treatments.
"You need to learn the patient's seizure traits as they usually have one or two, which allows a more thorough diagnosis and treatment."
The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company and the Abu Dhabi-owned Mubadala - which owns most of the chipmaker, Global Foundries - are looking to start making the chip by the end of this year.
Dr Sarmad Al Shamma, a neurologist at the Neuro Spinal Hospital in Dubai, said home monitoring would be good for doctors and patients alike.
"In addition to the discomfort of being in a hospital for more than 24 hours, there is a reduced possibility of an attack in the hospital because patients are lying in bed the entire time," he said.
"This often means they have to stay in the hospital for an even longer time. By monitoring them outside the hospital, we can learn what is triggering the attacks."
Epileptic seizures can be triggered in different patients by lack of sleep, stress, low blood sugar and flashing lights.
Dr Taoufik Al Sadi, the head of neurology at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, said the chip could help fill "gaps in knowledge" about the condition.
"If this proves to be scientifically solid it would be an excellent addition to better understand the frequency and severity of the seizures, their duration," he said.
"It will allow better options for treatment based on solid, objective data, rather than relying on a patient's history and recollection."
He added that the chip could help reduce the stigma associated with epilepsy.
"Many sufferers feel deprived from basic privileges, such as driving a car and in some cases, going to school," said Dr Al Sadi.
"They find it difficult to be in social situations because they never know when they're going to have the next attack.
"But what they need to know is that after six months of treatment they can drive and resume their normal life."