Saturday, October 17, 2015

A computer chip for the brain to control seizures?


A few days the news reported a computer chip has been developed that is expected to control or prevent Alzheimer's Disease.

 Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine in November 2012 surgically implanted a pacemaker-like device into the brain of a patient in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, one of the first such operations in the United States--and now it appears the brain computer chip works. The device, which provides deep brain stimulation and has been used in thousands of people with Parkinson’s disease, is seen as a possible means of boosting memory and reversing cognitive decline.

This interested me since in my novel, Joe the Dreamer: The Castle and the Catapult, a missing computer design for a chip to control grand mal seizures is an integral part of the story.  Here's the section from the book, published in 2012 and enjoyed by youth as well as adults. I hadn't even heard of the Alzheimer's chip. The idea came to me in interviewing physicians about epilepsy and seizures during my seven years on the medical beat for The Pueblo Chieftain.

First the book summary:

Joe the Dreamer: The Castle and the Catapult
By A.B. Brownell
Enter an area where people are missing and radicals want to obliterate Christianity from the earth. Joe Baker’s parents are missing and  he finds himself with someone after him. Joe joins a gang committed to preventing and solving crimes with harmless things such as noise, water, and a pet skunk instead of blades and bullets Praying for his parents’ return, in his dreams Joe slips into the skin of Bible characters. He ends up in a mental hospital. Will he escape or be harmed? Will he find his parents? Does God answer prayer?

 No fantasy. No wizard, but suspense. Christian payload. Joe the Dreamer: The Castle and the Catapult
Reviewer: “A.B. Brownell weaves a tale of intrigue and faith which captures the reader from the opening page.”

Excerpt from Chapter Four:

“Darin,” Kermesis said. “It’s time you came to your senses.
Your wife suffers being here. She used to be a beautiful woman. Look at her. And look at you. You were a handsome man! We hate to do this to you. You are one of the most talented men I know. Putting medical knowledge into a software design to control epilepsy was a stroke of genius. You can make a difference in America. We have a plan to bring hope to our country. Where is the program?”
Darin turned toward his former boss, the trowel still in his hand. “I created the design to work within the brain because my little brother used to have grand mal seizures. He’d scream and then fall unconscious on the floor, and the violent muscle contractions began. Sometimes he’d lose bladder and bowel control. He’d wake up with a severe headache, ashamed, embarrassed, and weak.”
Darin took a deep breath. “In epilepsy, grand mal seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. The proposed chip will be designed to keep cranial activity in the normal range—similar to how a heart pacemaker works to correct abnormal heart beats.”
“That’s exactly why I want it!”
“Medications prevent seizures in some people,” Darin continued, folding his arms across his bony chest. “Geodesic brain mapping now shows which parts of the brain cause seizures. In some cases, neurosurgeons remove parts of the brain to interrupt nerve pathways through which seizure impulses spread.”
Kermesis tried to interrupt, but Darin put up his hand and kept talking.
“Vagus nerve stimulators about the size of a silver dollar are one of the new treatments. Surgeons implant them in the upper chest, yet even that rarely eliminates all seizures and works for only about half the patients.[1] I’m hoping my device will be developed and will work for folks other treatments don’t help.”
 Kermesis grinned.  “Look around. Did you notice that we’ve gathered a bunch of religious nuts who are significant opinion leaders?”
Darin wiped his long hair off his brow as perspiration dripped into his beard. “My brother died when he had three grand mal seizures in one morning. I’ve lived for the day when I could prevent others from going through that agony. My design might not control seizures, but it’s worth a try. I thought you would help me get clinical trials and market it. So you want me to give it to you so you can sell it?”
Kermesis stepped closer. “Listen to me carefully if you don’t want us to get Joe and Penny. I want you to change the program so it will cause seizures instead of stopping them.”
“Change it so it will cause a person to have a seizure if he says the name Jesus or God or words like ‘sin,’ ‘repent,’ ‘pray’—things like that. No one will ever know we are intercepting brain waves in these religious leaders,’ but it will destroy their ability to persuade or probably even to think. If you program it right, they’ll never remember being here.”
“That would be the most despicable use of modern technology ever created—if it would work,” Darin said. “I won’t have anything to do with it.” He returned to working on the wall.
Kermesis grabbed Darin by the shoulder and looked him in the eye. “I respect you and your work, but I’ll do anything to get that software design. You saw how upset Rose was when I mentioned the children. I would hate to see how she’ll react when I bring you a finger or toe every week from Joe and Penny. Or when I bring them here to join our youth class.”
“Youth class?”
“Yes. Part of the revolution is beginning right here, and teenagers will have a vital part in it. We are training moldable young people to be arsonists and suicide bombers.”
Darin couldn’t believe his ears. “You’re part of some Middle East terrorist group?”
“No! We will bomb Christians everywhere, and everyone will think it’s al-Qaeda or some other group of Middle East Jihadists. It’s perfect.”
“Kermesis, you’re scaring me. You’re not using this as a threat?”
“Look around you. Do you think we took these people off the streets to build a wall?”
“Don’t you hang out with a psychiatrist? Have you talked to him? If you’re serious about this terrorist plot, I worry about your sanity.”
Kermesis went into a fit of laughter. “Yes, I’ve talked to him. He heartily approves.”
How could he stand there and lie with such sincerity? “My gut says I’ll never give that design to you because of what you want to do with it.” Darin wiped mortar off his trowel, a sick feeling of despair flowing over him. “But I don’t want you to touch our kids.”
Kermesis chuckled and walked away.