For centuries epilepsy was a mystery. Individuals who suffered from seizures were thought to be either agents of God—or possessed by demons. Even in the 20th century, people with epilepsy faced a lot of misunderstanding and stigma around their condition. While the development of new medications and surgical options have helped seizure sufferers regain control of their lives, one-third (or nearly 1 million people in the U.S. alone) have drug resistant seizures. But change has come. Within the past ten years, the use of advanced technology to monitor and even control seizures is making freedom from seizures a reality.
Today, tracking seizure activity is easy and affordable thanks to wearable digital technology. A recent study of wearable seizure detectors indicated these devices could help prevent sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP), the most common cause of death among people with uncontrolled seizures. Wearables also allow users to set medication reminders and even transmit health data to their doctors.
Three Seizure-Stopping Advances
While detecting seizures is helpful, ending seizures is the goal for Director of Epilepsy Surgery and Director of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery, neurosurgeon and neuroscientist, John Rolston, MD, PhD. He’s among a handful of specialists who are pioneering new and more effective treatment for people with drug-resistant epilepsy.
“Someone who has failed two anti-seizure drugs should be sent to a comprehensive epilepsy center for evaluation for surgery,” he says. “But the average time for that person who is diagnosed with drug-resistant epilepsy to be evaluated for surgery is 20 years.”
One cause for the delay is difficulty pin-pointing the source of seizures. Rolston aims to change that. The treatments he uses sound like the stuff of science fiction: stereo-electroencephalography (SEEG), laser ablation, and responsive neurostimulation. Indeed, these advancements give neurosurgeons non-invasive tools to target the source of seizures deep within the brain.