Researchers at King’s College London have developed a new diagnostic approach which can significantly reduce the number of seizures in young people with focal epilepsy, with some people becoming seizure free. This is a significant breakthrough for people with focal epilepsy, where seizures occur on one half of the brain, as around 30% of people with epilepsy do not respond to anti-epileptic medication. The research was funded by children’s health charity, Action Medical Research and Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.
The researchers used deep brain and sub acute cortical stimulation, where parts of the brain are stimulated by electrodes placed under the skull, over defined periods of time. The aim is to determine where seizures are occurring in the brain, with the aim of removing this part of the brain. The results exceeded the researcher’s hopes as they found that sub cortical stimulation, which was being used as diagnostic tool in this study, significantly reduced seizures from short to very long periods of time in children and adults. By 2023, 12 children have already been helped by the new technique.
One of the first young people to benefit from this new approach is Human Rights Masters student, Sophie Lennox, now aged 23, who had the treatment in 2015 and has now been seizure free for seven years: Sophie says: “Before I had the surgery, I was having up to 12 seizures a day which was really scary. The brain surgery transformed my life and my seizures stopped immediately. The operation was worth it even though recovery took six months and was painful and tiring. Before the surgery, I would be anxious even walking up the stairs in case I had a seizure and no one was behind to catch me. Sometimes I forget how bad it was. The freedom I have gained would have previously been unfathomable. I am now lucky enough to have travelled to more than 30 countries, some on my own. Not having seizures has given me confidence I never thought I would have.”
Epilepsy is a complex condition that involves regular, often unpredictable seizures, which can take many forms. Approximately 70,000 children and teenagers under the age of 18 in the UK are affected by epilepsy. This research is much needed as there are some children and young people whose focal epilepsy can’t be controlled with medicines or resection surgery.
The new approach has been successfully used to help 12 children with severe epilepsy at two different hospitals in UK (King’s College Hospital in London and Liverpool Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, part of Northern Children Epilepsy Surgery Service). Dr Antonio Valentin, the lead researcher from King’s College London comments: “Initially we thought that subacute cortical stimulation could only be used to help direct surgery in drug resistant epilepsy, but the results of the research exceeded our expectations. We’ve since been able to use the technique to guide other potential treatments for some children with epilepsy. Our most impressive result is that three children at King’s College Hospital and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital who were using wheelchairs due to continuous seizures affecting their legs were able to walk again after trying our technique.”
The researchers found that as a result of the study, they were able to make recommendations on how subcortical and deep brain stimulation could be used in the future to treat more children with epilepsy.
Caroline Johnston, Senior Research Manager, Action Medical Research says: “The results are extremely promising and demonstrates the groundbreaking impact of the research that Action Medical Research has supported. It also brings much needed hope to young people whose focal epilepsy is not managed by current treatments. The development of recommendations on how to use this approach could have far ranging benefits in the treatment of epilepsy.”
Dr Kiki Syrad, Director of Impact and Charitable Programmes at Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity said: “Seriously ill children with conditions like focal epilepsy deserve kind and effective treatments so they can lead happy and healthy lives. Research has the potential to transform the treatment options for rare and complex diseases, and at GOSH Charity we are delighted to work in partnership to co-fund pioneering medical researchers who bring hope to children and families when they need it most.”
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