In what’s being touted as a medical breakthrough in the treatment of epilepsy, it must seem -- at least for the patients who suffer from this disorder -- more like a medical miracle.
Yesterday, as reported by CNN, Texas Children's Hospital declared that it is now the first hospital in the world to use laser brain surgery on epileptics.
Instead of traditional invasive surgeries for this procedure, which have for some patients been only minimally effective, the doctors use an MRI to guide the laser. According to Dr. Daniel Curry of Texas Children’s Hospital, "The first patient we did was in August of last year, so over the last year we've done five patients, and so far, they are all free of their seizures."
According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, traditional therapies include a daily medication intake, the use of a ketogenic diet, surgery or the insertion of a Vagus nerve stimulator. The ketogenic diet has been successful in the treatment of children mostly.
It is very restrictive and includes only foods high in fats and low in carbohydrates. The strict diet causes the body to break down fats instead of carbohydrates for energy. Alternatively, the Vagus nerve stimulator has had a somewhat decent rate of success in the reduction of seizures depending on which patients you ask. It can reduce seizures by 20 to 40 percent in some or completely control seizures in about 5 percent of people.
Most however, still need to take anti-epileptic medication. As a last resort -- and only for patients whose seizures do not occur in the parts of the brain that control speech and movement -- doctors have used brain surgery, which involves removing a part of the brain that has seizure activity. However, even with the surgery, some patients still require daily medication.
Thus, it is not surprising that the medical community is declaring a victory in the treatment of epilepsy. The new laser surgery, more than just being successful, is far less invasive. It allows for smaller surgical incisions and shorter hospital stays than traditional surgery.
As Dr. Angus Wilfong, Texas Children's Hospital explains, "Just a two-millimeter opening and through that to pass a small laser probe that can reach deep parts of the brain without hurting the overlying brain and to destroy the lesion that's causing the epilepsy without causing injury to the surrounding brain."
According to the CNN report, the doctors have thus far only performed the surgery on children. However, there are plans to expand the new technology to include the treatment of adults as well. The hospital says that it takes about a year to see the impact of the laser surgery. Since it has been that long for this group of “test patients” and they have all remained seizure-free, the doctors at Texas General feel that they can comfortably report the findings as reliable.
I’m sure that the young patients who were suffering greatly from this disorder would more than agree.