Developments to Watch
HELPING EPILEPTIC BRAINS FIND THEIR WAY BACK TO CHAOS
When biological systems go haywire, order, not chaos, can be suspect. During chemically induced seizures in rats, for example, neurons fire erratically but in unison--a phenomenon called chanting. Now, scientists at George Washington University and Georgia Institute of Technology suggest that it's possible to nip human epileptic seizures in the bud by restoring chaotic brain activity before abnormal harmonies take hold.
Suppressing chaotic reactions is routine work for mechanical engineers. And in medicine, electrical pulses are used to smooth out rapid, irregular muscle contractions that cause heart attacks. Deliberately inducing chaos is more controversial, researchers say. Further animal tests are needed before anyone tangles with the human brain. But if all goes well, doctors treating severe epilepsy may no longer need to prescribe heavy drugs, or slice away damaged brain tissue. Instead, they could implant tiny electrodes around the site to detect the rhythmic onset of neuronal "chanting," then nudge the cells back to a more natural state of chaos.EDITED BY RUTH COXETER