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Better brain scans for children with epilepsy

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Research funded by Action has allowed doctors to successfully test a new child-friendly brain scanning technique to identify children with drug-resistant epilepsy who could be treated by surgery.

Their results have led the team to make a business case for their test to become a new clinical service within London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital and made accessible to other hospitals treating children with epilepsy.

Around 60,000 children and teenagers under 18 in the UK have epilepsy, and sadly medication doesn’t work for up to one third of them.

The seizures these children experience can be scary and unpredictable. They can make day-to-day life very difficult, sometimes even dangerous.

Brain surgery can be a life-changing option for some of these children but it is a major undertaking. It works by removing the part of the brain that triggers the seizures; so doctors need to be able to pinpoint where that is and the impact surgery might have.

Dr David Carmichael and his team were awarded an Action grant of £190,000 to develop the new technique, which combines EEG and fMRI scanning together. Significantly, they found that adding a third technique, called electrically source imaging or ESI, gave the most accurate results and this could identify brain abnormalities where other scans had previously failed to find them.

They also successfully tested a child-friendly approach by allowing children to wear headphones and watch cartoons inside the scanner. This helped to reduce movement inside the scanner, even in children as young as six.