Australian researchers developing breakthrough treatment for epilepsy

Australian researchers will work with US experts to develop a world-first procedure they believe could stop debilitating seizures for millions of epilepsy patients.

Researchers in brain bio­mechanics at the University of Western Australia hope the methods they are developing could be proven within two years.

As many as 70 million people have epilepsy, but about a third of patients are resistant to medications to control seizures. In extreme cases, sufferers can experi­ence several seizures an hour.

UWA’s Karol Miller, leading the research in Perth, said surgery to stop seizures was risky.

He said a procedure being developed in Boston involved inserting invasive electrodes into a patient’s brain to look for the sources of abnormal electrical ­activity. Researchers at UWA’s Intelligent Systems for Medicine Lab — the world’s most cited in the field of brain biomechanics — are then sent images to create a computational model of the ­patient’s brain.

Professor Miller said this could better inform a neuro­surgeon about what part of the brain was emitting abnormal signals, minimising the risk of the operation.

“Opening the skull and inserting electrodes significantly ­deforms the brain,” he said.

“So if you can figure out the brain tissue displacement induced by opening the skull and inserting electrodes, the surgeon will know which bit of the brain to cut out.”

UWA last month signed a ­research collaboration agreement with Boston Children’s Hospital, which is regarded as the world’s best pediatric hospital.

Professor Miller said if the project with BCH were successful, his method should be adopted worldwide. “If this happens, I can ­retire,” he said. “I’ve worked on biomechanics of the brain for about 22 years now and if I can cure millions of people from epilepsy, then I can retire happy.”


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