Every day about 80 people suddenly discover they have epilepsy when they are struck by their first seizure.
Anyone can develop it – epilepsy occurs in people of all ages, races and backgrounds and the severity of the condition can vary greatly. In very severe cases it can be fatal.
London scientists are now leading a new research project designed to more accurately pinpoint where epilepsy might begin. The two-year study could potentially lead to improved targeted treatments and surgery for some of the 300,000 sufferers of the neurological disorder in the UK.
Led by world leaders in the condition, the project is funded by leading medical research charity Action Research, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Dr Louis Lemieux, of the Department of Clinical and Experimental Epilepsy at University College London (UCL), says: ‘Epilepsy is the single most common serious brain disorder, with one in 200 of the total UK population affected by it.
‘We are thrilled to be given this latest funding of almost £72,000 from Action Research, which will enable us to further develop and use the very latest in technology to try and better identify the origin of electrical activity.’
Epilepsy is a condition in which the person is prone to recurrent epileptic seizures or ‘fits’, in which the normally well-ordered electrical activity in the brain is suddenly disturbed by chaotic and unregulated electrical discharges.
Because epilepsy touches the lives of so many people, it places a heavy demand on the NHS, particularly care in the community. It is estimated that epilepsy places a burden of nearly £2billion on the UK economy each year.
Most cases can be controlled by medication. But for about 20 per cent of epilepsy sufferers there is no effective medication and surgery may be considered. However, it can only take place if the area of the brain that triggers the seizures can be pinpointed accurately.
Professor David Fish and Dr Louis Lemieux, of UCL’s Institute of Neurology, are recognised world leaders in using a technique which combines the recording of electroencephalograms (EEG) and functional MRI to obtain brain scans during the occurrence of what are known as ‘spikes’.
These spikes indicate electrical activity in the brain and they are much more frequent than seizures and therefore easier to record. Patients are completely unaware they are having them.
The aim of this new two-year grant is to improve the identification of the origin of the spike in 12 patients and establish its relevance to the epilepsy.
Dr Lemieux says: ‘In a sense, we would like to be able to show that this technique can help in localising the epileptic focus, which is the abnormal part of the brain that gives rise to seizures and which must be treated or removed to cure the epilepsy.’
Action Research is currently funding another exciting epilepsy project designed to pinpoint the sites at which seizures start. The study, worth more than £280,000, is developing new ways to examine the brain with MRI scans, opening up new possibilities for surgical techniques.
Action Research is dedicated to helping overcome disease and disability for children, families and the elderly across the UK. Its Touching Lives Campaign aims to raise £2.5m in 2002 for vital medical research and more details can be found at www.action.org.uk
For further information and interviews, please contact Nicole Duckworth in the Action Research press office on 01403 327403 Fax: 01403 210541, or email firstname.lastname@example.org ISDN facilities are available
Fact-File: *Epilepsy is the most common serious brain disorder. *Every day about 80 people suddenly discover they have the condition when they are struck by their first seizure. *One person in 20 will have a single seizure (or ‘fit’) at some point in their lives. *MRI scans are being developed to locate part of the brain which is causing the problem. These scans work by analysing the exact amount of water in any part of the brain, and uses this information to create a picture which highlights any lesions, scars, tumours or malformations which may be responsible for the condition.
Your donation could help fund vital research for children