Dr. Barbara Kroner is an epidemiologist at RTI International, one of the world’s leading independent, nonprofit research and development organizations. As the director of innovative studies of HIV/AIDS and end-stage liver disease, Dr. Kroner’s work has been improving the human condition all over the globe. But, it’s her most recent development that has the potential to make the greatest impact, not only on other people’s lives, but her daughter’s too.
When it comes to bedtime at Dr. Kroner’s house, you can often find her in the same bed as her 14-year old daughter Ellie, who has Aicardi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes uncontrollable and frequent seizures. Ellie is one of approximately 2 million people, including 400,000 children, in the U.S. being treated for epilepsy, and one-third continue to have seizures despite treatment.
“I don’t want my child having a seizure by themselves in the dark. I want to be with her,” said Dr. Kroner in an interview with Washington Post. “Even if I don’t do anything, holding her hand, comforting her and telling her it’s gonna be okay helps me feel like I’m doing something. It helps her feel more comfortable till it’s over.”
It was on one of these nights that Dr. Kroner wondered if there was a device that could alert her to when her daughter is having a seizure during the night. She brought the concept to her co-workers at RTI and has since been developing a mobile seizure alert system to help epilepsy patients and their caregivers.
The alert device detects seizures based on physiological effects using sensors to evaluate respiration, heart rate and body orientation. When the device assesses that a seizure is taking place, a text message is sent to the caregiver.
Dr. Kroner explains in RTI’s press release, “The system could have a substantial and measurable impact on the epilepsy community by decreasing the number of seizure-related injuries and deaths, improving quality of life, and increasing independence for both patients and caregivers,” Kroner said.
A recent $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will enable the development team to create a fully functional prototype device. Dr. Kroner hopes to bring the device to market in 3 years.