Brain Activity Revealed Through Your Skin: Stress, Sleep, & Seizures | Rosalind Picard | TEDxNatick
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Brain Activity Revealed Through Your Skin: Stress, Sleep, & Seizures | Rosalind Picard | TEDxNatick

Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Cristina Bufi-Pöcksteiner This story begins when my students at MIT
and I were building new technology to help people understand
the emotions of others. We were working with people
on the autism spectrum like this little boy here, and we created technology
to read facial expressions, which you can get in your phone today
thanks to the work of Affectiva. But while we were creating this, and I was talking with one
of my friends with autism, who actually talked by typing,
she said to me, “Roz, you’ve got it wrong. Our biggest problem is not
understanding other people’s emotions, it’s you understanding our emotions.” And at first I thought,
“Oh dear, it’s me.” And indeed, I have room to improve. But it turns out
we all have room to improve. And as I asked her, “Well, what are the emotions
that we’re missing, that you most wish we could understand?” She said, “There’s huge anxiety
and stress that we’re experiencing. Many times, the environment,
the lights, the sounds, the smells are driving us crazy,
and we’re about to explode, and yet on the outside we may look
just like we’re shutting down. So we’re being misread.” And I realized we had built technology
in our lab years before that measures something
called electrodermal activity. That’s a big word that is referring
to a general phenomenon whereby your skin becomes more conductive
when you get more nervous, when your sympathetic nervous system, your autonomic – sounds like automatic,
but it’s autonomic nervous system – that controls your heart beating,
your lungs breathing, all of these parts
of your body automatically. When the sympathetic branch of that
goes high in fight or flight or with general excitement,
it can make your hands sweaty. And even when you don’t feel sweaty,
it can make electrical changes that we can sense
on the surface of the skin. Now, this was traditionally done
with wires and electrodes in the lab, and that was not very portable. At the Media Lab, we developed ways
to measure it from the wrist, and the ankles,
and other places on the body. The first time that I saw
the skin conductance data 24/7 was this picture from an MIT student. What you see here are
seven days of data, 24 hours a day. If we zoom in, you’ll see
that there are places where the skin conductance
is going really high, where, again, there’s more excitement,
or more emotional load, or more cognitive load. In this case we see MIT homework sets (Laughter) caused quite a lot of activation. Now, to my utter surprise,
sleep also caused a lot of activation, which was not what I expected. In fact, sleep is often
the biggest peak of the day. And the reason for this
is still a mystery. But some of the things
you’re going to hear shortly, I think, are about to give us
more insight into this mystery. And also I have to admit,
to the embarrassment of we MIT professors, the low point every day
was classroom activity. (Laughter) Once we got the data continuously,
not in the lab but in real life, we started learning all kinds of things, and there were a number
of very exciting surprises, and I’m going to tell you
the story of one of them. And this one happened when a young man working
as an undergrad in my lab came to me at the end of the semester, and he said, “Professor Picard,
could I please borrow one of those sensors for my little brother?
He has autism. He can’t speak. And I want to see
what’s stressing him out.” And I said, “Sure. In fact,
don’t just take one, take two.” Because it was a long winter break, and they were hand built
with wires hanging out back then, and they often broke. So he takes the two sensors;
he puts them on his little brother. And back at MIT, I go to my computer,
and I look at the screen, and I see data like I just showed you
for this little boy. This day looked pretty normal. This day looked pretty normal. I go to the next day, and my jaw drops. He had put the sensors on the left
and right wrist at the same time. Okay. And one of the wrists,
the data had gone so high, that the sensor must be broken. We have stressed people out at MIT
every way I can imagine. Qualifying exams. Public speaking. We have measured
Boston driver stress – huge peaks. But nothing as big
as what I saw on this little boy. And the weird thing was
it was on one side and not the other. The other side wasn’t responsive at all. And I thought, with my electrical engineering hat on:
How can this happen? How can – unless the sensors are broken – how can you be excited on one side
of your body and not the other? This just didn’t make sense. After a lot of debugging
that I won’t go into here, I finally gave up, and I did something
I’ve never done before, I called a student at home on vacation. (Laughter) “Hi. How’s your Christmas going?
How’s your little brother? Hey, any idea what happened to him – ”
and I gave him the exact date and time. And he said, “I don’t know,
I’ll check the diary.” Diary?! MIT student keeps a diary?! Quick prayer. He comes back;
he has the exact date and time. He checks it with me, and he says, “That was minutes before
he had a grand mal seizure.” Now, I didn’t know, really,
what a seizure was. I started to do some research. Next thing I know,
I’m on the phone with Dr. Joe Madsen, head of neurosurgery
at Children’s Hospital, Boston. “Hi Dr. Madsen.
My name’s Dr. Rosalind Picard. Could you tell me, is it possible
that somebody could have a huge sympathetic nervous system surge many minutes before a grand mal seizure?” And he says, “Probably not. (Laughter) But, you know, we’ve
sometimes had patients who have hair stand on end
on one arm before a seizure.” I said, “On one arm?” And I told him that this didn’t just
happen the way it usually happens, it happened on only one side. And he got interested, and we got Institutional
Review Board approval, the ethics board at the hospital,
we built a lot more sensors, we enrolled families fully consented,
where they are bringing their children in not only to have around-the-clock
monitoring of EEG for the brain waves, ECG for the heart, but now EDA, electrodermal activity,
for the skin conductance. And here’s an example of what we saw. This is data from a 17-year-old boy, and what you see
is the skin conductance here. And in the middle is the sleep. Those are the biggest peaks
I was showing you from the MIT student. Well, those are like
little baby maple trees next to the three other peaks that are like redwoods
coming out of the data. The other three peaks
are grand mal seizures. And we found 100 percent
of grand mal seizures had a significant increase in the signal
that we could measure on the wrist. That signal in a grand mal
is also accompanied by convulsive motion that you see under the three red lines
in the little blue boxes. That shows a lot
of accelerometer activity. Now, most of the sensors
on the market today that people with epilepsy could use
only measure that movement, and that can be confused
with brushing your teeth, strumming the guitar – you get a lot of false alarms. But through this accidental finding, we’re able to combine it
with the skin conductance and get a more accurate detector. And we also asked:
Why are these so big and so long? The seizure’s only a couple of minutes. And this response is lasting
much longer than a normal stress response. Was it that the person
was convulsing so much that they got sweaty? No, it turns out it’s completely unrelated to the length – or strength
of the convulsions. But it turns out to be related to –
it was really surprising to me – I learned that while most seizures – and here is brainwave activity
from a seizure; on the left, you see it
kind of going crazy; this is EEG traces from the scalp –
most of them end and then the brain activity looks normal. But here it’s going flat
after the seizure. And that suppression happens –
well, was observed, in 100 percent of the published cases where a patient happened to be wearing
an EEG when they had a seizure, nobody was with them,
and they passed away after the seizure. Now, fortunately,
death in epilepsy is rare. But it turns out it’s more common
than death from SIDS, from AIDS, and from house fires in the US. It’s called Sudden
Unexpected Death in Epilepsy, and I bet most people here
have never heard of it. And yet, if you look at the statistics
of neurological disorders, and here we see the years of lost life
for people with stroke and ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease – or multiple sclerosis
or Alzheimer’s or Parkindson’s, SUDEP is number two on this chart. It needs to be better known. As I learned more about seizures, I learned that they’re
kind of like little electrical fires. You can start like a little brush fire. And it can stay localized in your brain, and it can simply cause
an unusual sensory experience, or déjà vu. You may not see anything outwardly
that is going on differently when the seizure is happening inside. But the more dangerous seizures
can make you unconscious and can cause these convulsions, and those are called
the grand mal seizures. Now, you wouldn’t build a house today
without having a smoke detector. And yet, SUDEP kills more people
in the US every year than house fires, and patients are sent home not only without some kind
of equivalent of a smoke detector, but without even the ability to talk
to a lot of people about what’s going on. So that led to this short clip
I’m going to show you next. (Video) Rosalind Picard: Our device
is designed to detect unexpected seizures. Embrace is designed to save lives
for a lot of people with epilepsy. Seizures can seriously hurt
or even kill people, and we need an alert to intervene. One in 26 people in the US
will develop epilepsy at some point during their lifetime. Everybody with epilepsy
should be able to have a device that alerts a friend
or a family member to come help at the time that they might need it. (Music) (Video ends) (Applause) Thanks to the teamwork of Empatica in partnership
with the Epilepsy Foundation and the ability of new
crowdsourcing sites like Indiegogo to reach the public, this project was fully funded. And, for the first time I’ve ever seen
in crowdfunding of a cool new technology, not only were devices able to be gotten to people who could afford one, but through the partnership
with the Epilepsy Foundation and some generous anonymous donors, we were able to give a device –
for each one that was purchased – to a child and a family
who could not afford a $200 device. Now, I’ve told you a quick story here, but we’re not over yet. This story started with trying to help
understand and communicate emotion better in an individual with autism
and express the anxiety. Today, thanks to
the hard work of Empatica, I’m able to wear a device
that measures my autonomic stress. It can gently vibrate
and tell me that it’s going up, privately. Or, if I choose, I can have the signal
sent to somebody who I care about, who I know I can trust. It reminds me of when the director
of the Media Lab said years ago, “Roz, when are you going
to build me the mood ring that tells me my wife’s mood
before I go home?” (Laughter) Well, now we can tell somebody
a little bit more about the stress contributing to your mood. The same device can also now – has the potential to help people
with autism communicate what’s going on even when they can’t do it verbally. And the device also has the ability
to run an algorithm on board that can detect those unusual events
that might be a grand mal seizure, and bring an alert so that somebody
can come and check on you. Because we’ve learned
that when somebody is there, SUDEP is a lot less likely to happen. And the person who comes there may not have to do anything more
than simply say the name, or turn the person over,
or ask if they’re okay. Simply touching or stimulating a person
very gently after a grand mal seizure and helping them get in a safe position
could help them take that next breath and help that seizure
not be the terminal kind. Now, as I was telling about this work
to one of my friends, he said to me, “Oh, Roz, I have epilepsy.” “What?! You have epilepsy? You’ve been my friend for 20 years and you’ve never told me
you have epilepsy? Why didn’t you tell me?” And he said, “Well, I just have felt uncomfortable
telling anybody that I have seizures, and I don’t have them very frequently.” Epilepsy is stigmatized, and that needs to change. And we can do that here today,
we can begin that process of change. And to begin that process of change, I’m going to introduce you
to somebody very special. First a word or two of background. Imagine being 13 years old
and lying on this surgical table with your head under that big lamp. Now, fortunately, the surgeon at the end
is Dr. Joe Madsen, who’s amazing. But he’s about to cut
a big hole in your skull and go into your brain deep
with sharp objects and reconfigure some things. I don’t know about you, but I would
not want to volunteer for this. This is a very scary surgery. And this is Bailey Dwyer on the right,
who has just gone through this surgery and is recovering nicely. Bailey’s very brave, and she’s also very courageous
and generous in another way. I know this looks like a teenager
dressing up for Halloween as a zombie, right? It’s really cool to put on the fake blood
and the gauze and all that stuff. But this is the real thing. Bailey has wires
coming out of her head here that go not just
under the surface of the skin, they go deep into the brain, into the regions of the brain involved
in memory, emotion, attention, and other vital processes. And Bailey graciously volunteered to not only have
what she needed to have done, but to participate
in scientific experiments that enable all of us
to benefit from and learn more about how these
deep regions of the brain operate, how they map to other things
we can measure on the surface of the body, and how we can use this information
to help lots of other people. People like Bailey are my heroes. And I want you to join me right now
in welcoming to our stage Bailey Dwyer. (Applause) Bailey Dwyer: First,
thank you, Roz, for introducing me. I’ll start by saying my name is Bailey
and I’m a junior at Brookline High School. When I was in eighth grade,
I had two brain surgeries for my epilepsy. I currently do softball
and am studying for my SATs. When I had my brain surgery, I was scared to tell anyone
of why I would be away because I was worried
about how they would stereotype me. It’s important to educate people
on what epilepsy is and get rid of the stigma around it. By raising the issue
and telling people what it is will not only raise awareness
but save many lives. Thank you. (Applause) Roz Picard: Bailey,
you drove here today too, right? BD: I did, yes RP: Yes! What does it say
about our culture today when a young high school student cannot tell his or her friends about why they’re going away
from school for a while to have major brain surgery? We can change that. You can change that. And all you have to do
when you leave here today is chat about it, talk to people about it. Ask your friends if they have epilepsy. Tell them what you learned
about here today. In doing this, together,
we can destigmatize this, we can help people get better treatment, and by doing this,
you may also help to save a life. Thank you! (Applause)


  • Naina Marbus

    Remarkable discovery. Can this also be applied to predicting when an alcoholic starts to feel the compulsion to go for the bottle?

  • Pilar S.

    This should be standard available to every family dealing with epilepsy, one of my twins has just recently been diagnosed and if I could I would buy three bracelets, one for each of my boys, my eldest has autism and the other twin has behaviour issues, I would like to know and be alerted on what happens at night but not only. It would give me great peace of mind. I hope prices go down and these become more popular!!!

  • Muuip

    This sounds very promising, glad I have seen this video. I am still trying to figure out why the signal is stronger on one arm. Somehow very important to understand epilepsy.

  • Muuip

    Knowing which arm sends a signal can help by 50% to diagnose the source of the seizure, which would be the opposite brain hemisphere to the arm sending the signal.
    Which arm was sending the signal?

  • Cedar Forest

    So which side should have the bracelet? My dd is a RH, would that mean we put on the bracelet on the left (where the storm is starting) or the right (where most of the symptoms occur)?

  • Erik Estrada

    can someone attach the link to obtain one of these bracelets please. I am epileptic and I'd like to try this bracelet. I've been looking for a hook and I believe I found it.

  • Jenny Ziegler

    I'm so excited to try new things to provide new information regarding epilepsy. I've been having seizures for over 30 years. I have Uncontrollable Epileptic seizures throughout the day and night. I'm very happy to help people understand Epliepic seizures.

  • Shavindra Fernando

    they should be available in Asia, Sri Lanka as there are many epileptic people who can't afford. Hope it's spread round the world at a nominal price direct from product house / whorehouse retail with a unique number sold to the customer

  • Realexcel Epilepsy Portal

    Thank you for the seminar, not only great content, yet also entertaining. Very interested in contacting you regarding distributing these devices. Please get back to us. Thank you

  • Summer Takacs-Michaelson, CH

    Awesome she created some sensing device! However, she doesn't seem to have a deep understanding of either autism or grand mal seizure disorder, as well as other methods and modes of sensing. What seems like a scientific breakthrough to her, is actually, common sense for anyone who lives with or around this disorder. She doesn't have enough experience, but tons of learning. The young lady she had visit at the end has, clearly, lots of inflammation happening in her nervous system as seen through her body language and through the position of her eyes. Despite her surgeries, there are break through seizures wanting to happen as her nervous system is still inflamed. The bigger issue is reducing inflammation and putting into remission the seizures. I would like to try the device sometime, but is it as effective as the other means available? And does this device and surgeries that treat temporary symptoms….is this what we are striving for…or SHOULD we be striving for healing the underlying problems? This talk mentions one in twenty-six Americans will have a seizure in their life? Are you KIDDING ME? What was that statistic fifty years ago? I feel like this woman is a sincere person who is, through life experience luckily, quite insulated in her understanding of these particular problems. Her product may be incredible, yet ignores the older methods of extremely accurate seizure prediction. As far as Autism goes, the systematic inflammation of course, has dysregulated organ systems. SUDED is rediculous. Grand mal seizure folks HAVE TO KEEP AN AIRWAY OPEN! What is this term created for? The REASON GRAND MAL SEIZURE FOLKS don't drive is because of losing bodily function. Surgeries guarantee nothing except treating symptoms. WORKING on the UNDERLYING problem makes a safer driver. The talk started with one topic, then ended with the gracious volunteering of a teenager, without more information, of surgeries as a cure. Her eyes bespeak of ongoing inflammation that this lady should start looking into deeply. Please do not USE those people with medical problems as your stepping stone for developing and selling products. For SHAME!!!!

  • Deborah McNeal

    I have epilepsy and thought this SPA was excellent. Thank you. Would like to know where to get one of the bracelets, please

  • K M

    Going back to the beginning of the speech, I have to throw a flag out there. Emotional expressions are not universal. They are learned associations and they differ. More universal sharing of expressions enable people to understand cross-cultural body language and facial expressions, but the application of a program to assist autistic people in identifying emotion won't be helpful across the board… only to groups of people to whom those expressions apply as valid. I have two autistic kids, and that's kind of resonated with me. I have epilepsy, so the speech was interesting on a number of levels, although I didn't find myself agreeing with some of it.

  • Bryan Schroeder

    I am so glad to see something like this come to market. I have Complex partial I have streesful job for 23 years trying to do the Wright thing. Feel epilepsy is catch up to me πŸ™ had ups and downs the worst is when your company takes your illness for granted and harassed you at hospital thinking your not really having seizure unbelievable. The stigma is real.

  • Teresa Barrett

    I am blessed to be Jessica's mom and caregiver and disabled person. She has LGS a severe former of epilepsy. I have been putting together a smart home with just the outline of smart energy devices, color(Phillips), Sensor lights outside, inside cameras just showing me where Jessie is and is she okay as she wanders restlessly all night, security gate with smart lock and softening and lowering furniture and obstacles in our home so I maybe can sleep and better manage our care. What computer desktop or laptop would best fit my needs and still be affordable?

  • seriousgeorge001

    I wonder if the bracelets come in 2-pack, one for both wrists, since it's uncertain which arm will indicate the seizure. Apart from that– I really thought this was going to be about how pimples were co-related with brain activity.

  • EverythingisEverything

    When I was in middle school (in the 90's), we were informed very simply that one of our classmates had epilepsy. She said that she was okay most of the time, but that a ceisure could come up at any time. To my knowledge, nobody gave her a hard time for it – tbh it had never crossed my mind until… this video. When unfortunately, my classmate did have a ceisure in school, we knew she wasn't messing around or anything. Help was called at once, nobody was freaking out, we gave her space, and all of our support. Epileptic people should be able to count on people around them. The only thing to do is just help.

  • Our Galaxy

    Has anyone had any experience using these for non-epileptic seizures? Mine mimic grand mal and often begin before I can let my caregiver know I'm going to seize. It would be awesome to have a device to help me communicate when I need help. It sounds like these wristband devices rely heavily on convulsions to create a seizure alert, rather than electrical signals in the brain (which I lack). But if that's the case, wouldn't they work just as well for non-epileptic seizures with convulsions?

  • VicToMeyeZR

    So if this device uses electircal signals, why does the one my fiance wears reports a seizure on a BUMPY ROAD?… It uses more than just vibration huh?

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