Could light therapy help epilepsy patients who don't respond to treatment? | Action Medical Research

Could light therapy help epilepsy patients who don't respond to treatment?

17 June 2010

A new clinical trial has started which is investigating whether light therapy could benefit people with epilepsy who continue to have seizures despite having tried several medications.  The research, which is being carried out at the Institute of Neurology, University College London, and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, is being funded by Horsham-based children’s health charity, Action Medical Research.

Epilepsy is a disorder of the nervous system in which people have a tendency to have recurrent seizures (sometimes called fits).  A seizure is caused by a sudden burst of excess electrical activity in the brain, causing a temporary disruption in the normal message passing between brain cells. This disruption results in the brain’s messages becoming halted or mixed up.

Of the estimated 450,000 people with epilepsy in the UK, approximately 58,000 are children and teenagers under the age of 18.  That’s one in every 242 children.

There are many treatments for epilepsy and around 70% of sufferers find that medication can stop their seizures altogether, however 30% of sufferers continue to have seizures despite trying all suitable medications. Many of the anti-epilepsy drugs have unpleasant side effects, such as drowsiness and a slowing down of thought processes. Children and teenagers can find them particularly troublesome, especially while at school or in higher education.

In this clinical trial, researchers aim to find out whether light therapy reduces the number of seizures people experience.  

Dr Sallie Baxendale, lead researcher from the Department of Clinical and Experimental Epilepsy, UCL Institute of Neurology, says:  “There is evidence that light therapy may help people with seizures, as a pilot study suggested that people suffer fewer seizures on sunny compared to dull days.  We hope that this study will provide evidence on the effect of light therapy, and that one day it could be used as a treatment for patients who don’t respond to currently available medications.”

One hundred people who suffer a type of seizure called a complex partial seizure, where people partly lose consciousness and are not aware of what they are doing, are taking part in the clinical trial. They will be divided into two groups that will receive two different intensities of light, and the effect on the number of seizures they have will be measured.

“The impact of epilepsy on people who don’t respond to current treatments can be devastating and we believe that this project will provide more data on the role of light therapy in treating epilepsy possibly, in the future, resulting in an alternative treatment,” says Dr Yolande Harley, Deputy Director of Research at Action Medical Research.  

There is a variety of evidence which indicates that light therapy could be beneficial in the treatment of epilepsy.  Studies carried out suggest that epilepsy is more prevalent in northern than southern Europe and also, sunlight influences the production of melatonin and vitamin D, two naturally occurring substances that both have links with seizure activity.  Light therapy is an established treatment for depression and the biological pathways involved in depression are also implicated in epilepsy.

New treatment options are needed for epilepsy as uncontrolled seizures can have a damaging impact on children’s lives, disrupting their education, complicating their friendships and hindering their social development.  Also children with epilepsy frequently underachieve at school and can suffer long-term problems.


Notes to editors:

For more information contact:

Claudine Weeks
Communications Manager
Action Medical Research
T 01403 327478 or 01403 210406
M 07525 394115

Action Medical Research is the leading UK-wide medical research charity dedicated to helping babies and children. We know that medical research can save and change children’s lives. For nearly 60 years we have been instrumental in significant medical breakthroughs, including the development of the UK polio vaccine and ultrasound scanning in pregnancy.

Today, we continue to find and fund the very best medical research to help stop the suffering of babies and children caused by disease and disability. We want to make a difference in:

·    tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
·    helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
·    targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.

 Epilepsy Action website: Accessed 2nd June 2010
 Joint Epilepsy Council of the UK and Ireland. Epilepsy prevalence, incidence and other statistics. March 2005
 Kwan P, Brodie MJ. Early identification of refractory epilepsy. N Engl J Med 2000; 342(5):314-9.
 Mitchell WG, Chavez JM, Lee H, Guzman BL. Academic underachievement in children with epilepsy. J Child Neurol. 1991;6(1):65-72.

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