Epilepsy is a mysterious beast. A neurological condition that affects nearly 50 million people worldwide, a common symptom is seizures that start in the brain - but many people experience it differently. Anyone can develop epilepsy at any time of life, and yet, the ability to manage the condition, other than with medication, is currently very limited.
When Sankha witnessed a man having a seizure while out shopping with his family in Bath, something changed for us both. What was particularly poignant about the incident wasn't the shock or fear demonstrated by the man's family accompanying him, but their calm and unflinching reaction to helping him cope until the seizure passed. The seizure had been normalised in their family unit into something that they would manage, whenever and wherever a seizure would strike.
That experience, as well as seeing the day-to-day impacts of epilepsy with David's father experiencing the condition, drove us to explore how epilepsy is managed. And, crucially, how we could create something to improve that man's quality of life, his family's, and anyone else whose life is affected by the condition.
We got to work. True, we didn't have a medical degree or 20 years' worth of neurology experience. But we did have two brains and a determination to try.
First of all, what was already out there? Our research (which we had to fit in around our GCSE coursework at Loughborough Grammar School) indicated that there was very little pre-emptive seizure support, and the side effects of epilepsy medication were frequent and unwanted. So, it made sense to look at when an epileptic seizure happened and how. Could we predict when a seizure was about to happen?
In one scientific research paper, we discovered that prior to a seizure, there would be huge fluctuations in heart rate and body temperature. Nobody would want to go about their daily lives with electrodes attached to their chests unnecessarily, but together, we developed a prototype for a wearable vest that could do the job unobtrusively, read the signs and 'notice' when a seizure was imminent.
All great inventors have hurdles to jump over. And for us, that was our first prototype, which caught fire. As well as being cost-efficient, affordable, it's fair to say our invention would have to be fireproof. So back to the drawing board.
The third prototype of the vest - which we've named the 'E1' - monitors vital signs and if any changes are detected, sends a text message to the wearer's phone, and that of a Carer, to warn them that help is needed. What we didn't bank on was our invention's effectiveness. The vest can predict a seizure up to eight minutes in advance, which allows an invaluable period of time for the wearer to alert people close to them as to what is happening, and make sure they are as safe as they can be until the seizure passes.
We have been completely blown away by the reaction to our invention. We won the incredible accolade of UK Young Engineers of the Year 2017, and were the first ever team to represent the country in the China Adolescent Science and Technology Contest - coming third! We showcased our invention at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists in the Estonian capital Tallinn, and presented to the medical professionals at the Royal Society of Medicine this summer too. It has been unbelievable.
It just goes to show that if you truly believe in your invention and you put enough work in, you will succeed - with the right support of course. The Head of STEM Innovation (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) at Loughborough Grammar School, Daljit Kaur, was a huge help to us both. She is a real advocate for going beyond the school curriculum and has been with us every step of the way.
What's next for us and the E1? Who knows. We're back at school and concentrating on our A Levels now, but our invention's development isn't over. We've had some truly inspiring advice from medical and engineering industry leaders, and have even had interest from investors, so doors are opening.
What we really hope will last, is the precedent set by our invention to inspire more budding young STEM enthusiasts. Scientific breakthroughs aren't just for qualified scientists - and we've shown that with dedication, teamwork and a little creativity, anything is possible. Whatever happens with the E1, we hope we have inspired the next set of engineers in 2018.Suggest a correction