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Biomarkers and Epilepsy: An Interview with Parisa Sabetian, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer and Co-Founder

October 1, 2020

In case you missed it, we recently interviewed Ray Iskander, CEO, and Shelly Fan, Director of Communications & Alliances to learn more about Novela’s epilepsy mission and how we’re bringing our nEureka® for Epilepsy Data-as-a-Service Platform to market.

Today we sat down to talk with our Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder, Parisa Sabetian, PhD, to delve into the technical ins and outs of how health biomarkers are correlated with seizures and why our nEureka® Seizure Monitoring Smartwatch measures them.

As the leader driver of our R&D efforts and co-organizer of our #BigDataBeatEpilepsy campaign, Parisa brings over 7 years of expertise in neuroengineering to Novela.

Parisa Sabetian, PhD. Chief Scientific Officer & Co-founder

Given the enormous heterogeneity in epilepsy with more than 40 different types of seizures, which biomarkers are most likely to be reliable predictors of seizures?

Although most studies of epilepsy have focused on EEG, several lines of research suggest that biomarkers including heart rate (HR),  heart rate variability (HRV), blood oxygen saturation level (SpO2), breathing rate (BR), blood pressure, and muscle movement patterns (EMG) significantly change during seizures, suggesting a lower-cost method of monitoring for reporting and potentially predicting seizures.

For example, there are some studies that have shown autonomic nervous system dysfunction (e.g., HRV) is associated with sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). These groups indicated that HRV has potential as a biomarker of SUDEP risk. In addition, research has indicated that seizures may be associated with prominent oxygen desaturations. They have noticed that SpO2 monitoring provides an added means for seizure detection. Finally, literature studies have shown that the automatic detection of generalized seizures using EMG would facilitate patient monitoring and early intervention to prevent comorbidities, recurrent seizures, or death.  

SUDEP is a rare but devastating condition that deprives the lives of people with epilepsy. It often occurs during sleep. Although the triggers of SUDEP remain mysterious, research has identified biomarker correlates, such as heart rate variability (HRV) and blood oxygen saturation levels (spO2), that portend the onset of SUDEP. Our nEureka® for Epilepsy Data-as-a-Service Platform continuously captures these correlates during sleep, and wirelessly sends an alert to the patient or caregiver when dangerous changes are detected—enabling people to take action. nEureka® does not claim to predict or prevent SUDEP. However, the monitoring system offers a scientific method to empower those living with nighttime seizures to take control of their own health, while providing their loved ones and clinicians with an additional layer of peace of mind.

How does your training as a neuroengineer help advance Novela’s vision?

I worked on methods to monitor for epilepsy using health biomarkers such as heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure for my PhD at the University of Toronto. For 7 years I dedicated my life to better understanding how health markers relate to epilepsy or other neurological disorders and developing new ways to better capture and analyze big data using Artificial Intelligence tools.

I have always had a passion and dream to bring novel technologies to the healthcare industry, especially to patients with epilepsy and their families. Novela Neurotech makes this dream come true by providing the opportunity for me to develop the nEureka® Seizure Monitoring Smartwatch for patients with epilepsy and create neurotechnologies from the lab into real-world solutions.

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