Sounding the alarm

Sounding the alarm
Seniors Kevin Pineda, Rachel Kolb, and Timothy Skinner (left to right) are part of a faculty-student team that is building an epilepsy-monitoring device.

The Problem: Nearly 3 million Americans live with epilepsy, a potentially disabling seizure disorder sparked by a burst of abnormal electrical signals in the brain. Medication prevents seizures for the majority, but patients requiring continuous monitoring would benefit greatly from a portable monitoring device to record brain activity and alert when a seizure is coming. Existing devices tend to be very expensive and available only in hospitals. The team wants to change that by designing a low-cost, lightweight device using new technologies. “We wanted something novel, that would free individuals so they wouldn’t be tethered to a caregiver,” says Rachel Kolb, a biomedical engineering major who was inspired by The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, a nonfiction book about a child diagnosed with severe epilepsy.

Their fix: A two-piece device consisting of an unobtrusive headset attached to five electrodes to record electroencephalogram (EEG) waves from the brain, plus a smartphone or tablet using an Android platform to display the data. The information would reach a parent or doctor via text message. Each of the students drew upon her or his particular engineering expertise to design the components. The electrical engineer worked on amplifying the signal and routing it into a microprocessor for conversion into a digital signal, for example, while the computer engineer coded the signal for transmission through wireless Bluetooth to the mobile device for viewing. A grant from a professional engineering society in Princeton helped purchase materials.

Their takeaway: After a fall spent planning, the students began using a 3-D printer to make the head apparatus. Then came months of building, testing and debugging subsystems. Integrating them and proving they had come up with a functioning prototype was the final challenge. If the device succeeds in capturing enough data, the team hopes to submit a paper to a spring conference of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. Every member of the team believes the project could lead to a commercial application. “We definitely think it could be a marketable product,” says Kevin Pineda, who designed the headset. While working on it he also sketched out a new future for himself: “I’ve decided to take a year off and then apply to medical school.”

Professor: Brett BuSha and Ambrose Adegbege

Students: Rachel Kolb, Mark Curran, Kevin Pineda and Timothy Skinner

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