Although a brain in the throws of a seizure doesn’t necessarily emit an actual sound, it has rhythm and chaos that professors at Stanford have made into otherworldly sounding music.

Chris Chafe, a music professor at the university specializing in making music from non-musical things, and Josef Parvizi, a professor who treats patients with intractable seizures, teamed up to record the brain activity of a person experiencing a seizure and translate it into musical sound.

brain stethoscope

In layman’s terms, the Stanford professors describe the device, which they hope to create that would translate brain activity into music in real time, as a “brain stethoscope.” (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

It started as an artistic endeavor, according to Stanford News, but once they listened to what they created, they learned it could have a medical application as well.

“My initial interest was an artistic one at heart, but, surprisingly, we could instantly differentiate seizure activity from non-seizure states with just our ears,” Chafe said in a statement. “It was like turning a radio dial from a static-filled station to a clear one.”

“It was like turning a radio dial from a static-filled station to a clear one.”
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What the duo found is that if they could create a “brain stethoscope,” they could translate the real-time brain activity into something audible, giving people like caregivers a tool to alert them when a seizure is coming or is actively happening, as not all seizures exhibit clear physical signs.

“The patient whose brainwaves you are hearing is sitting quietly in bed and is NOT having a convulsive seizure,” Parvizi said in a comment on YouTube. “Around 0:20, the patient’s seizure starts in the right hemisphere, and the patient is talking and acting normally. Around 1:50, the left hemisphere starts seizing while the right is in a post-ictal state. The patient is mute and confused. At 2:20 both hemispheres are in the post-ictal state. Patient is looking around, still confused, trying to pick at things, and get out of bed.”

Listen to the recording with these times in mind to see if you can sense the changes:

Here’s how the recording works (emphasis added):

The EEGs Parvizi conducts register brain activity from more than 100 electrodes placed inside the brain; Chafe selects certain electrode/neuron pairings and allows them to modulate notes sung by a female singer. As the electrode captures increased activity, it changes the pitch and inflection of the singer’s voice.

Before the seizure begins – during the so-called pre-ictal stage – the peeps and pops from each “singer” almost synchronize and fall into a clear rhythm, as if they’re following a conductor, Chafe said.

In the moments leading up to the seizure event, though, each of the singers begins to improvise. The notes become progressively louder and more scattered, as the full seizure event occurs (the ictal state). The way Chafe has orchestrated his singers, one can hear the electrical storm originate on one side of the brain and eventually cross over into the other hemisphere, creating a sort of sing-off between the two sides of the brain.

After about 30 seconds of full-on chaos, the singers begin to calm, trailing off into their post-ictal rhythm. Occasionally, one or two will pipe up erratically, but on the whole, the choir sounds extremely fatigued.

It’s the perfect representation of the three phases of a seizure event, Parvizi said.

The brain stethoscope as a concept is currently being built with the researchers saying they hope to have a version ready to reveal next year.

“Someone – perhaps a mother caring for a child – who hasn’t received training in interpreting visual EEGs can hear the seizure rhythms and easily appreciate that there is a pathological brain phenomenon taking place,” Parvizi said in a statement.

Featured image via Shutterstock.com.

(H/T: Huffington Post)

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