Tunisian innovation brings hope to epilepsy sufferers

Tunis startup Epilert’s high-tech bracelet provides detailed information for epilepsy patients and their doctors. (Supplied)
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Updated 08 February 2020

Tunisian innovation brings hope to epilepsy sufferers

  • High-tech bracelet made by Epilert alerts friends and family that a seizure has happened
  • Severity and location of a patient is sent instantly and automatically to caregivers

TUNIS: Millions of epilepsy patients across the Arab world are in daily danger of suffering a potentially fatal seizure, with multiple factors influencing when an attack might strike.

The condition’s unpredictability makes it tough to manage, and a quick response from caregivers is essential.

Three Tunisian entrepreneurs have created a high-tech bracelet that automatically alerts friends and family that a seizure has happened.

“Usually, people who have seizures don’t know when one is going to strike. We could see the problem, and wanted to use technology to create a solution,” said 25-year-old Haroun Moula, cofounder and chief operating officer of Tunis-based Epilert.

The sister of fellow cofounder Firas Rhaiem, 25, suffers from epilepsy, which inspired the two schoolfriends and third cofounder Amine Riahi, 26, to act.




The Epilert, a high-tech bracelet, automatically alerts friends and family that a seizure has happened. (Supplied)

Together, they launched Epilert in 2017 with a few hundred dollars, recruiting unpaid graduates and students to work for the company in return for a stake in the firm. The company also formed a partnership with a Tunis university medical school.

“The first challenge was to make our engineers aware of the medical and scientific background of epilepsy so we could design an optimal solution,” said Moula. “Our research led us to decide on a bracelet because it’s easy to wear and use, and isn’t stigmatizing.”

A seizure puts the epilepsy sufferer in danger, not only from the attack itself but from harm caused if they were to fall: Every year, one in 1,000 people with epilepsy dies from a seizure, according to the US Epilepsy Foundation. “Imagine if a seizure were to happen when someone is in the shower or riding a bike,” said Moula, a computer engineer.

Epilert’s bracelet monitors a patient’s heartbeat, temperature, neurological activity and other physiological data.

It will recognize that a wearer is having a seizure within 30 seconds of a fit starting, and automatically contact the person’s caregivers, which are registered on the patient’s account on the Epilert app.

The bracelet will provide info on the seizure’s severity and the patient’s location. Alerts can be delivered via SMS or automated phone call. The device, which syncs to the wearer’s smartphone via Bluetooth, can predict when a seizure is likely.

“If a patient is able to know a seizure is likely, they can ensure they’re in a safe environment,” said Moula. “Our added value is in the signal processing of the data, especially the neurological data, which isn’t something you can find on other devices.”

As well as automatically collecting physiological information including wearers’ sleep patterns, users can add other important data to their profile such as their age, sex, weight and height.

They can also log other data such as their most recent meal and emotional status, which can all influence the likelihood of a seizure and its severity.

“The idea is to use the app as an awareness tool and as a tool for the patient to track themselves, logging detailed data to better help the algorithms and the doctors,” said Moula.

There should be a huge market for Epilert’s technology. Ten of the 22 Arab League member states provide no public data on epilepsy, according to a 2016 academic study, but among the 12 members that do provide data, 7.5 people per 1,000 suffer from epilepsy.

The combined population of Arab League members is around 420 million, so extrapolating the academics’ data would mean there are around 3.15 million epilepsy suffers in the region.

Epilert is conducting preclinical trials of its bracelet, and filing for US regulatory approval in order to start selling it in the US. Moula expects to receive the go-ahead by the end of 2020.

Patients will be able to buy the bracelet directly from Epilert, although the company also plans to partner with doctors specializing in epilepsy in order to boost awareness of the product.

The bracelet will cost $150, while a subscription to Epilert’s services costs a further $10 per month.

 

• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. 


High stakes in Johnny Depp libel hearing

Updated 13 July 2020

High stakes in Johnny Depp libel hearing

  • The 57-year-old denies abusing actress Amber Heard — now 34 and the global face of French cosmetics firm L’Oreal
  • Some legal experts following the High Court hearing in London question why Depp decided to put himself through the three-week ordeal

LONDON: Hollywood star Johnny Depp wrapped up five days of gruelling testimony Monday in a libel trial that has exposed the dark underbelly of the lifestyles of the rich and famous.
The “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise hero is suing the publisher and executive editor of Britain’s The Sun tabloid newspaper over a 2018 story branding him a “wife beater.”
The 57-year-old denies abusing actress Amber Heard — now 34 and the global face of French cosmetics firm L’Oreal — during a rocky two-year marriage that ended in a messy 2017 divorce and several lawsuits.
But he has admitted a debilitating drug habit and allowed the defense to air graphic details of 14 assault allegations that made headlines around the world.
Some legal experts following the High Court hearing in London question why Depp decided to put himself through the three-week ordeal given the subject matter being aired.
“He’s been extremely ill-advised to pursue this,” Mark Stephens, a leading media specialist at London law firm Howard Kennedy, told AFP.
“To expose (difficult divorces) to forensic examination is the height of stupidity or hubris.”
Here are the main points that have emerged from the trial so far.
Hollywood’s drug culture has provided the backdrop for the entire hearing.
Depp told the court on Friday that he snorted cocaine to help break his addiction to painkillers.
He argued Thursday that he was suffering from withdrawal while coming off of drugs and was in “no physical condition” to hurt Heard during one alleged incident on his private Bahamas island.
Depp further explained the party drug ecstasy had little effect on him and that he preferred to leave it to Heard and their celebrity friends.
The actress herself was alleged to have sent a party invitation with instructions: “Bring some food, booze and drug of choice, yey!“
Another text Heard allegedly sent from Depp’s phone asked a friend to “procure more mushrooms.”
“Amber Turd” began trending on Twitter after Depp spent a part of Friday trying to explain how a large stool ended up in the couple’s bed in 2016.
Both of them were alleged to have been involved in extramarital affairs at the time and Depp claimed it was left there as revenge by either Heard or one of her friends on her 30th birthday.
Depp called the defense’s claim that it was from one of their dogs “physically impossible” because it was simply too big.
“There were jokes like ‘Amber Turd’, ‘Amber in the dumps’ going on,” defense attorney Sasha Wass told Depp sternly.
Depp professed his innocence and called the incident a “mystery.”
One of the darkest episodes involves an allegedly high and drunk Depp scrawling messages to Heard on a mirror and wall with the blood of his severed finger.
Depp acknowledges dipping the finger in a can of paint to continue writing once the bleeding stopped.
But he denies tripping on ecstasy at the time and claims Heard slashed off the tip of his finger with a bottle during a particularly bad fight.
The defense says he hurt it while “completely destroying” the couple’s vacation home in Australia.
Depp said Thursday that he was experiencing “some kind of breakdown” and was feeling suicidal at the time.
Mark Stephens said both Depp and Heard had plenty to lose and little to gain from the proceedings.
“His reputation will be permanently stained if he is found to be abusive.”
And “if Heard is not to be believed, she will find it very hard to find work in Hollywood.”
British libel law puts the burden of proof on the defense and gives Depp the initial advantage.
But the judge told Heard her upcoming testimony would not be bound by “confidentiality restrictions” agreed in the divorce.
Depp may find it even harder to clear his name in a separate defamation lawsuit he filed over an op-ed about the alleged abuse that Heard wrote in The Washington Post.
That hearing is expected to begin in August in Virginia under US laws putting the burden of proof on Depp.