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New research gives insight to epilepsy laser surgery

Nationwide, over half a million people have epilepsy (around 1 in 100) and on a global scale, there are around 50 million people suffering from the condition.

However, a new American study has shown experts some of the reasons as to why epilepsy laser surgery is offering a new hope for patients.

The research team tried to determine how some medication prescribed for patients with epilepsy doesn’t work, and when resective surgery – an operation which involves removing part of the brain which is responsible for causing the seizures- isn’t always an option, why laser surgery is more suitable.

Although laser surgery generally isn’t the answer for every individual epilepsy patient, it is showing increasing promise in cases where seizures stem from a previously identified area deep inside the brain – often where resective surgery would be detrimental.

Epilepsy symptoms range from mild spaciness or unconsciousness to falling over into more violent shaking or spasms. Seizures tend to begin when an abnormal burst of electrical impulses from the brain spread into other brain areas, causing the neural system to completely short-circuit.

Some epilepsy patients have seizures which cannot be controlled by medication, but fewer than 50% of them are viable candidates for open-brain surgery but only a handful operations on this scale have been performed over the last couple of years, according to the National Association of Epilepsy Centers in America.

Laser surgery could be an option for those who are not viable for complete resective surgery but whose conditions are also not able to be controlled by medications.

Dr Angus Wilfong, a medical director at the Comprehensive Epilepsy Programme at Texas Children’s Hospital said, “It’s become a real game-changer. In some cases it’s been completely transformative. It can change the trajectory of a child’s life.”

The new technology involves a laser probe guided by MRI imagery. The probe is placed directly in the brain in order to destroy the localised area or lesion which is causing the brain to send misfired signals. It leaves the healthy surrounding brain tissue unharmed, ensuring little damage to things such as speech, movement and memory.

The less-invasive procedure can be done through a little hole in the skull, leaving only two or three stitches. The laser surgery takes about three hours, most of it to just make sure the laser is in exactly the right position, and only fifteen minutes for the laser surgery itself. In comparison to the open brain, three to six hour surgery that is traditionally offered to treat the condition, laser surgery sounds much more preferable.

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