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World First: Australian Patient Receives Pioneering Epilepsy Warning System

In a world first, Australian doctors have attached probes designed to predict seizures into the brain of a man with severe epilepsy. The new technology is intended to warn epilepsy patients of impending seizures.

Australian surgeons have placed electrodes onto the surface of an epilepsy patient's brain as part of a seizure early-warning system. They are connected to a device inserted into the chest that measures the brain's electrical activity.

Any changes that indicate a possible seizure are transmitted to a pager, giving patients time to take preventative medication or to seek help.

Professor Mark Cook from Melbourne's Saint Vincent's Hospital, which is one of three taking part in this trial, says the treatment is an exciting development.

"I don't think we've ever conceived that we might be able to predict seizures in this way. I mean to have that in the control of the individual, I think is a remarkable step forward, so if it works as well as its thought to this will really change life for a lot of people," he said.

The first patient to undergo this operation is 26-year-old Jason Dent, who lives in the city of Hobart. His severe epilepsy can not be regulated by drugs or other surgical procedures. At times, his seizures are uncontrollable, so he can not drive, swim or even cook alone.

His mother, Helen Crossin, hopes the early warning system will make a difference.

"Just knowing he's safe, I think I'd be able to relax a little bit more. And him having some control over something that's been out of control for, you know nearly all his life and unpredictable for all of his life, so I think it is pretty amazing," she said.

The American company that created the experimental device says it could be widely available within five years.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by unpredictable seizures. They can make ordinary activities such as driving or simply crossing a road potentially life threatening.

Medication often can control, but not cure epilepsy.

An estimated 50 million people around the world suffer from epilepsy.