WINDOW ON THE BRAIN CURE FOR EPILEPSY
Action Medical Research has announced that a new MRI scanning technique could mean life-changing curative surgery for more people with epilepsy.
The technique helps to pin-point the exact source of seizures in the brain and, where surgery is possible, the area may be removed. This can mean a future that is seizure free for those sufferers whose epilepsy cannot be controlled by drugs.
It has detected abnormalities in the brain that may give rise to epilepsy in 29% of patients whose brains appeared normal using conventional MRI scanning.
Around 450,000 -2 suffer from epilepsy in the UK, it is the most common serious brain disorder and is characterised by repeated seizures. These seizures are often spontaneous but can be caused by triggers such as lack of sleep, flickering lights or a high fever
Action Medical Research has supported the groundbreaking work of Professor John Duncan, Professor of Neurology at University College London, and Medical Director of the National Society for Epilepsy, for 16 years.
Previously Professor Duncan has worked with the charity to develop MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans that act as “windows on the brain” to understand what happens between seizures.
In this most recent research the team has further advanced the MRI scanning methods to identify where seizures may be originating. They have also looked at the changes that happen in the brain immediately following an epileptic episode, to see whether it causes any damage.
When use of these exciting new scanning techniques becomes routine, it will help surgeons to operate on a backlog of around 1,000 patients in the UK, as well as 100 newly diagnosed patients each year. -
Professor Duncan said, “Epilepsy can be controlled by medication in 60-70% of cases, and for ¼ of the remainder surgery may be the best treatment and it is crucial that we have an accurate picture of what is happening in the brain to allow the best possible outcome for the patient.
“Our work has found that in 29% of patients whose brains appeared normal using conventional MRI scanning, our new techniques have found changes suggesting an epileptic seizure.
“This would have been missed without our new techniques.
“Improving our diagnostic techniques and our understanding of the effects of an epileptic seizure means that more people could benefit from curative surgery.”
Dr Yolande Harley of Action Medical Research added, “This is a real leap forward in the treatment of epilepsy and it could mean life-changing surgery for many more people. The potential benefit to patients is tremendous.”
Professor Duncan and his team were determined that patients should benefit as soon as possible from their achievement, and quickly offered surgery to suitable patients. One such patient is Caroline Martin, who experienced her first epileptic seizure when she was just 14 years old.
Caroline said, “Epilepsy had a major effect on my life from the start. All the things that other teenagers could do were full of risks for me – drinking alcohol, going to parties and discos with flashing lights. I passed my driving test before epilepsy was diagnosed, but had to give that up soon after.”
After the birth of her daughter Caroline’s seizures began to worsen and she was diagnosed with epilepsy. Despite heavy medication and weekly seizures she managed to bring up her daughter, run the family home and even work as a banquet organiser.
However, despite her best efforts to get on with life, the heavy medication and continual threat from seizures eventually forced Caroline to give up work.
She said, “What people don’t understand is that epilepsy is not just a condition, it’s a way of life. You have to live within the limitations that it gives you. You have to think twice before doing everyday things like cooking, ironing and crossing the road to avoid accidents, things other people do without thinking.”
Professor Duncan’s team performed life-changing surgery on Caroline in June 2004 to remove the part of her brain that was causing her seizures. That was three years ago and since then Caroline has been seizure free.
“I’ve changed in so many ways it’s difficult to list them all. I’m happier, I do more things socially – some friends say it’s like I’ve had a personality transplant.”
Professor Duncan said, “We are extremely grateful to Action Medical Research, it is thanks to this charity that we have been able to make these strides forward in our knowledge and it will undoubtedly save lives.”
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