Epilepsy is a really, really common problem… [There are] 60 million people worldwide with epilepsy… [and only] about two-thirds are adequately treated with currently available medication…

The medications carry their own special problems. We’ve got to ingest these medications that soak your whole body and brain — and your body doesn’t like them. They cause bad side effects, most particularly, side effects in the central nervous system. They slow your mind; they affect your ability to perform; and as well they have lots of other effects: tension on the liver, bones, and other tissue. So, they’re not good drugs.

…A lot of the problem with epilepsy relates to its unpredictability … we have to soak people in medications to prevent seizures that might be occurring only for a few minutes a year, but in those few minutes, disrupts their entire life. Prevents them from driving. Stops them working. Threatens their safety. Costs their life sometimes. So the unpredictability is a major part of the disability …it necessitates chronic drug administration for an intermittent problem…

So we’ve been working with a group based in the United States around seizure prediction and this has brought some really unique insights: [A person has a box implanted] — which sits underneath their clavicle, their collarbone — which records information that is drawn from these electrodes that we’ve placed over their brain through a hole that we’ve made in their skull…It transmits information to a small pager-sized device that they hold and that has a series of lights on it: a blue light to indicate a very low risk of seizures, a white light for a moderate risk, and a red light for a very high risk for seizures…
And this, if effective, would remove a lot of the disability for people. It might let them get to work, play sports — conceivably — even drive. It might be that you can provide therapies when their status changes on the recording…Suddenly, this changes everything.
Conceivably we could construct polymer implants, which could not only release [an anticonvulsant] drug, but detect the seizure, and use the energy in the seizure itself to release the therapy. And this would be remarkable.

Mark Cook, chair of medicine and director of neurosciences at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, speaks at TEDxUWollongong on his research on developing new treatments for epilepsy. Watch his whole talk here »

Have you ever tried to swat a fly, only to be foiled, again and again? Ever wonder why flies seem to be so good at avoiding your approach? At TEDxCaltech, biologist Michael Dickinson explains the why this should be no surprise, revealing the shockingly sophisticated biology behind fly locomotion — and incredible power of its tiny brain.

He says:

The engine of a fly is absolutely fascinating. They have two types of flight muscle:

The so-called “power muscle” — which is stretch-activated, which means that it activates itself and does not need to be be controlled on a contraction to contraction basis by the nervous system. It’s specialized to generate the enormous power required for flight. And it fills the middle portion of the fly, so when a fly hits your windshield, it’s basically the power muscle that you’re looking at.

But attached to the base of the wing is a set of little, tiny control muscles that are not very powerful at all, but they are very fast and they are able to reconfigure the hinge of the wing on a stroke-by-stroke basis, and this is what enables the fly to change its wing and generate the changes in aerodynamic forces which change its flight trajectory.

And, of course, the role of the nervous system is to control all this…Flies excel in the sorts of sensors that they carry:

-They have antennae that sense odors and detect wind detection.
-They have a sophisticated eye, which is the fastest visual system on the planet.
-They have another set of eyes on the top of their head — we have no idea what they do.
-They have sensors on their wing — their wing is covered with sensors, including sensors that sense deformation of the wing; they can even taste with their wings.

Top photo via Flickr user cypherone.