What did the project achieve?
“Our results are so far very encouraging, suggesting that this technique can provide useful insights for fine-tuning epilepsy treatment. Our technique involves electrical stimulation of the brain, reducing seizures and improving the quality of life for children with severe epilepsy,” says Dr Valentin.
More than 78,000 children and teenagers under 18 years old have epilepsy in the UK.1,2 Sadly, medication doesn’t work in up to one in three of young people while other treatments, such as surgery, are not always effective.3
Dr Valentin’s team is investigating a new electrical stimulation technique that could improve treatment for children with a type of epilepsy that originates in localised areas of their brain (focal epilepsy). It involves stimulating very specific parts of the brain with electrodes placed under the skull, suppressing the area of the brain which triggers the seizures.
The researchers have now used this technique in 12 children in two hospitals.
“We’ve found most patients benefited from the technique – reducing the frequency or severity of seizures during stimulation, leading to potential improvements in their quality of life,” says Dr Valentin. “One of these children who had to use a wheelchair before the procedure was performed, was able to walk again and had fewer seizures. Another child, who was having up to 200 seizures a day, became seizure-free for around six years.”
The researchers are now planning to run a larger trial, using a new device partly developed as a result of this work, to establish if this technique is safe and effective for children whose seizures can’t be controlled with existing treatments. It is estimated that up to 30 children a year could be treated using this new stimulation technique to reduce their seizures and improve their quality of life.
This research was completed on
Over 60,000 children and teenagers aged 18 and under have epilepsy in the UK.1 Sadly, medication doesn’t work for up to one third of these young people.2-3 There are other ways to treat epilepsy, but some children carry on having seizures, which can be unpleasant and unpredictable. Dr Antonio Valentin, of King’s College London, is investigating the potential of a possible new treatment for children with uncontrolled seizures, which involves electrical stimulation of the brain. He hopes this will greatly improve the quality of life of children with severe epilepsy who’ve found that existing treatments don’t work for them.
Action Medical Research and Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity are jointly funding this research.
How are children’s lives affected now?
“If a child’s epilepsy cannot be controlled, it can seriously disrupt their life both at home and at school,” says Dr Valentin. “The most severely affected children can have hundreds of seizures every day.”
Seizures can be frightening and disruptive, for children and their families. The exact nature of children’s seizures varies. Some children, for example, lose consciousness and have convulsions, meaning their body shakes uncontrollably. Other children may enter a trance-like state, or experience unusual sensations such as a strange taste in their mouth.
“If treatment doesn’t work, children with epilepsy can’t be sure when they’ll have their next seizure, which can impact greatly on activities such as schooling, hobbies or just being out and about,” says Dr Valentin. “Children may feel different from their peers, and their seizures can put them at risk of injury. Sadly, on rare occasions, epilepsy sometimes even causes death.”
How could this research help?
“We’re developing a new way to treat children with severe epilepsy whose seizures can’t be controlled by existing treatments,” says Dr Valentin.
Treatment involves stimulating very specific parts of the brain using electrodes placed under the skull. Two techniques are being used, called cortical stimulation and deep brain stimulation.
“We’ve already treated two young adults with cortical stimulation and one child with deep brain stimulation, with promising results. In addition a short period of cortical stimulation was very useful for a six-year old boy who had more than 30 seizures a day. He has been seizure free for 20 months
“In this project, we hope to identify the best way to administer the new treatment and find out more about how it works, so that a much larger clinical trial can follow,” adds Dr Valentin. “Given the effects of uncontrolled epilepsy on children’s attainment at school, psychological wellbeing and future employment prospects, a treatment that stops some, or all, of their seizures could improve their quality of life significantly – throughout childhood and beyond.”
1. Joint Epilepsy Council of the UK and Ireland. Epilepsy prevalence, incidence and other statistics. September 2011.
2. NHS Choices. Epilepsy – Treatment. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Epilepsy/Pages/Treatment.aspx Website accessed 1 September 2015.
3. Epilepsy Action. NHS England. A guide for Paediatricians: Children’s Epilepsy Surgery Service (CESS). Guidelines for children’s epilepsy brain surgery referrals in England. https://www.epilepsy.org.uk/sites/epilepsy/files/professionals/cess-practioners-booklet.pdf Website accessed 1 September 2015.
|Dr Antonio Valentin PhD MD
|Dr Gonzalo Alarcon MD PhDMr Richard Selway FRCS
|Department of Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) King's College London
|Project Location Other
|Department of Neurosurgery, King's College Hospital, London
|22 July 2015
|Project start date
|1 February 2016
|Project end date
|6 December 2019