A silk brain implant that treats epilepsy then melts away

Tomorrow's anti-seizure medication may be a soft piece of silk like this one, planted in your brain, slowly releasing chemicals that have been locked into its absorbent fibers. That's the finding of a new NIH study, which demonstrated that epileptic rats given this treatment suffered from far fewer seizures.

Silk brain implants are nothing new — the material is soft and strong, and it can be designed to "melt" into nothing after a certain number of days. This makes it perfect for use in extremely delicate parts of the body.

What is new is how Rebecca L. Williams-Karneskyand her colleagues used it for a timed-release therapy in rats experiencing epileptic seizures. They soaked the silk implants in adenosine, a chemical that the brain releases naturally to suppress seizures, and perhaps also to suppress movement during sleep. One hypothesis about epilepsy is that people who suffer from it have a low level of adenosine.

A silk brain implant that treats epilepsy then melts away

Rats with the silk brain implants still had seizures, but their numbers were reduced fourfold. Soon, the treatment could be tested on humans too.

According to the NIH:

The findings show that the implants are safe to use in rats and suggest that they may one day be used in the clinic. “Adenosine-releasing silk is a biodegradable implant. The release of adenosine occurs for 10 days and then the silk will completely dissolve. This is an ideal set-up for a transient preventative treatment,” said [study co-author Detlev] Boison. “Clinical applications could be the prevention of epilepsy following head trauma or the prevention of seizures that often — in about 50 percent of patients — follow conventional epilepsy surgery. In this case, adenosine-releasing silk might be placed into the resection cavity in order to prevent future seizures.”

Read more about the study at the NIH website.