New diagnostic technique for inoperable epilepsy patients

Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder that affects people of all ages. It is characterised by recurrent seizures. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it affects about 50 million people in the world, which makes it one of the most common neurological disorders. About 70% respond to treatment, but some cases, in which attacks cannot be controlled with medication, are inoperable. Until now. An ambitious research project has discovered a diagnostic technique that will make surgical intervention possible.

Epilepsy is usually controlled with medication or surgery, but there are cases that do not respond to any treatment

Epilepsy is defined by two or more unprovoked seizures. It is a disorder with written records dating back to 4000 BC. It has always been associated with fear, discrimination and social stigmatisation. This stigmatisation still persists in some countries today and can greatly affect the quality of life of sufferers.

The disorder is usually treated with antiepileptic drugs. These act by controlling the seizures that characterise this neurological condition. But there are patients who respond poorly to pharmacological treatment so surgical treatment can be useful. There are, however, times when the operation cannot be performed because of the small size and location of the affected areas of the brain.

In the face of this problem, important research has been launched and carried out by doctors and engineers from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), La Fe Hospital in Valencia and the medical group Eresa. The objective was to develop an innovative diagnostic technique : Functional MRI-EEG.

The new technique for epilepsy patients is based on new technologies

This technique enables the detection of  epilepsy triggering malformations located in deep areas of the brain that are invisible due to their microscopic size, but perceptible thanks to this technique. This makes it possible to photograph the affected areas. And these images can act as a guide for surgeons and enable them to perform their work with great precision.

The Functional MRI-EEG technique consists of the combination of two testing methods. One is electroencephalography. This records peaks of cerebral activity associated with epilepsy when the brain is not experiencing an epileptic seizure. The other is high-field magnetic resonance. The resonance provides seizure activity images, as well as high-resolution anatomical images over which the activity images can be superimposed.

As a result, statistics can be obtained. These statistics can be used to generate a 3D reproduction of the brain from the images obtained from the resonance, thanks to the role of big data.  Technology is becoming increasingly prevalent in medical research. Big Data, smart operating theatres, robotics and virtual reality are just some of the many applications and solutions that technology can offer to medicine.

In this case, the advanced methods of automatic learning and data fusion help to interpret the images obtained from patients with epilepsy. Researchers maintain that surgeons will soon be able to safely operate on a greater number of people with epilepsy, thereby improving their health and quality of life.

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