Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which a person has repeated seizures over time. About 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy and it will become more common as people age. An effective method to prevent epileptic seizures is to stimulate the vagus nerve which is a bundle of nerve fibers that travels from the abdomen and chest through the neck to the lower part of the brain. The stimuli are mild pulses of electrical energy supplied by a pacemaker-like device placed under the skin. In traditional vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) the stimuli are given via two electrodes that coil around the nerve fiber bundle in the neck as shown in the picture below. A disadvantage of this is that all nerve fibers are stimulated without differentiation. Epilepsy treatment could be refined by selectively stimulating particular nerve fibers within the nerve bundle. Next to epilepsy treatment, the ability of selective stimulation is also of potential interest for treatment of other disorders, in particular brain disorders like Parkinson disease and Alzheimer.
The purpose of the graduation project is to examine alternative VNS methods by which stimulus energy can be delivered to individual fibers, or groups of fibers, selectively. We could think of, e.g., lateral placement of longitudinal electrodes or micro coils. The first activity is a literature investigation to determine the exact state-of-the-art and requirements from which we can depart. Next, an electromagnetic model for the nerve-electrode/coil configuration is designed and implemented in an electromagnetic simulation package like CST Microwave Studio. We could also consider in-vitro experiments with a phantom model. This project can be made as challenging as we want. Simulation tools as well as measurement equipment are available.
The work will be carried out in the Electromagnetics Group and in cooperation with Ghent University Hospital.