Science

Brain Imaging Technique Breakthrough Helps Epilepsy Patients

By Hilda Scott , May 23, 2013 12:06 PM EDT
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New imaging techniques in brain scanning helped to improve treatment of patients who suffer from epilepsy. The new system combines electroencephalogram (EEG) with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology for more accurate readings of brain activity.

Epilepsy is a chronic brain disorder, characterized by unpredictable episodes of seizures. Different conditions that affect the brain can cause epilepsy, including stroke, brain tumors, central nervous system infection or brain injury. More often than not, the definite cause of epilepsy is a mystery.

Seizures occur when the brain sends out abnormal signals as a result of changes in brain tissue. Medication can help to control seizures, but among 47 percent of patients who suffer from epilepsy, the drugs are not effective.

Surgery to remove the abnormal brain cells that trigger seizures may be an option for some epilepsy patients.  Prior to surgery, doctors and surgeons examine the brain to locate where the seizures originate and if the area can be safely removed without damaging other parts of the brain.

Thanks to a new imaging technique developed by Dr. Jean Gotman and colleagues at McGill University's Montreal Neurological Institute, more precise readings of the origins of epileptic seizures in the brain are possible.

The new technique uses EEG, which provides information on the timing of spikes in brain activity. Although helpful, EEG doesn't help with locating the source of the activity, that's when fMRI comes into play. With fMRI technology, neurosurgeons are able to precisely localize where the brain activity originated.

"Combining EEG and fMRI is a unique method to define non-invasively in the whole brain the regions involved in epileptic discharges. It is a complex tool but it is likely to play an increasing role among the methods currently used to localize the source of epileptic activity," Dr. Gotman said in a press release. 

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