‘The goal is to get there within a minute, and to be there with the patient. And that can save lives.’One of the scariest moments in the life of a parent whose child suffers from epilepsy is when that child has a seizure. In addition, if the child is unattended, a prolonged seizure can lead to brain damage, and even death.
Israeli startup BioLert is minimizing that risk by developing a warning device called Epilert to support a long needed remote monitoring solution for people with epilepsy and their caregivers. Epilert will detect and recognize epileptic seizures, according to the company’s CEO Amos Shaham.
In the Western world, epilepsy affects approximately five million individuals with approximately 400,000 new cases diagnosed each year – and nearly one-third of those diagnosed are children. Epilert can relieve parents or caregivers from the need of supervising epileptics (e.g. children when they are sleeping or playing alone), says Shaham, who founded BioLert in 2005 with Prof. Uri Kramer, one of Israel’s top experts in epilepsy and the company’s chairman and chief medical scientist.
Epilepsy, also known as a seizure disorder, is a neurological condition which affects the nervous system. A patient is diagnosed as an epileptic after having two seizures, an involuntary change in behavior, muscle control, consciousness and sensation due to an abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
“It’s like suddenly fainting. If the person is standing up, he’ll fall like a sack of potatoes,” Shaham told ISRAEL21c.
The unpredictability of seizures may affect patients’ ability to drive, work responsibilities and social activities, and with children can effect their social life and disrupt their studies.
“We are developing a device that within 20 seconds will alert caregivers or parents that an epileptic episode is occurring,” Shaham said. “There are several aspects for the need of such a device, but mainly it’s to improve the quality of life for everyone involved. There’s really nothing you can do once an attack has begun, but the important thing is to be there with the patient.”
The Epilert consists of a hand (or foot) sensor unit device worn by the patient, (“the size of a watch,” said Shaham) which detects movements and vibrations process and identifies it as an epileptic seizure rather than a normal non-epileptic movement.
“Our unique algorithms differentiate epileptic movements from non-epileptic movements,” explained Shaham.
Once positively identified as an attack the sensor transmits an alarm to an alert unit that is with or near the caregiver, similar to a baby monitor. There could be several alert units in various places in a house or a facility, he added.
The idea for the Epilert was borne out of a real problem that Kramer, director of the pediatric epilepsy service at Tel-Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov) Hospital, confronted on a daily basis in his work: the fear of parents that a child will suffer from an epileptic attack when alone or in his sleep, without them attending and when it goes on for several hours it can cause irreversible brain damage and even death.
“Professor Kramer also maintains a private clinic treating mainly children, and has a deep understanding of the needs of epileptic children and their families. A couple of years ago a mutual friend got us together, and Kramer explained to me the need for an alert system for his epilepsy patients,” said Shaham, an electronic engineer and entrepreneur who graduated of the elite 8200 unit in the Israel Defense Forces “many years ago” and was a former executive at Elisra, a top Israeli security and weapons company
Since ending his tenure at Elisra about 10 years ago, Shaham has managed startups, so he was in an ideal position to begin developing Kramer’s ‘dreams’ into practice.
With just the idea of the Epilert on paper, Shaham and Kramer won a ‘Start Up is Born’ contest sponsored by Israeli daily paper Ma’ariv in January 2005, beating out 700 other submission for the $90,000 first prize money.
“That got the company launched, got our studies and a patent process going,” said Shaham. “And at the beginning of this year, we received an additional investment of $100,000, which will help us move forward in developing the device.”
Then in June, BioLert, received a big “ego” boost by winning an annual prestigious British award – the ‘Medical Futures Innovation Award for Best Medical Device’. Medical Futures (MF IA) is an organization sponsored by pharmaceutical companies and the UK government in order to promote medical innovations.
“There were about 1000 entries in several categories and in our category of ‘mental health and neuroscience innovation’, we were one of four winners, and the winner of the Best Medical Device’. The next day there was a little article in the Daily Mail, and I immediately started getting emails and telephone calls. People went to the trouble of calling the paper and looking for our address. All were willing to buy the device, and were disappointed to learn it wasn’t ready yet,” said Shaham.
He hopes to rectify that situation, and within a short time complete the prototype of the Epilert and begin trials at Ichilov under Kramer’s supervision.
“Israel’s a great place to test this, because the country’s small and the population with epilepsy and their physicians is easily accessible. Professor Kramer knows all the relevant neurologists, and in few days, you can get to all of them,” he said.
“There’s no doubt the need is there, and this solution is unique. It is enthusiastically supported by all the neurologist and epileptologist that we talked to, in Israel and abroad” concluded Shaham.” We ran a small survey via a neurology clinic in the US and 80% of the people with children with epilepsy said they would use such a device. Similar results were received on a same survey in Israel.
“A warning has to be issued – whether it’s from a child to his parent, an adult to his caregiver or if it’s in the hospital to a nurse. The goal is to get there within a minute, and to be there with the patient. And that can save lives.”