A new, very precise, method of determining which brain cells lead to epileptic episodes in children has been developed by a team at University of Texas at Arlington and collaborators. Currently, epilepsy surgery is the safest and most effective treatment for these patients and offers a 50% chance of eliminating seizures.
The team used noninvasive techniques and advanced computational methods to measure the electric and magnetic signals generated by neural cells and identify functional networks responsible for the generation of seizures in children with epilepsy.
“This could benefit so many children who can’t control epilepsy with drugs, which represents between 20 and 30% of children suffering from epilepsy,” said Christos Papadelis, senior author, who also serves as the director of research in the Jane and John Justin Neurosciences Center at Cook Children’s Health Care System.
The paper was published in Brain, and the lead author is Ludovica Corona. It was produced in collaboration with Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School.
Epilepsy is a common neurological disorder affecting about 3.4 million people in the United States. Of those, about 470,000 are children, or about one of every 100 children in the U.S. Children with uncontrolled seizures are at increased risk for poor long-term intellectual and psychological outcomes, along with poor health-related quality of life.
As these authors write, “Epilepsy is increasingly considered a disorder of brain networks. Studying these networks with functional connectivity can help identify hubs that facilitate the spread of epileptiform activity.”
This team retrospectively analyzed simultaneous high-density electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetoencephalography data recorded from 37 children and young adults with drug-resistant epilepsy who had neurosurgery. Then, using source imaging, they estimated virtual sensors at locations where intracranial EEG contacts were placed.
They found that virtual implantation of sensors could non-invasively identify highly connected hubs in patients with drug-resistant epilepsy.
“By identifying which parts of the brain are producing the seizures, we can then resect them with brain surgery or ablate them with laser,” Papadelis said. “The test we developed pinpoints exactly where the epilepsy network is occurring. Currently, there is no clinical exam to identify this brain area with high precision.”
“Seizures affect these children throughout their entire life and have significant impact in their normal development,” he added. “Successful treatment of epilepsy through surgery or laser ablation early in life would provide an improved outcome for these children since their brains possess extensive neural plasticity and can recover after surgery better than adult brains. This would help the children live seizure-free and have less comorbidities from epilepsy.”