Lasers targeting epilepsy

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- More than two million adults in the U.S. have epilepsy; 150,000 more will develop the condition each year. Usually, medication can control seizures but about 30 percent of patients do not respond. Now, patients have a new treatment option that uses lasers to stop the seizures.

For eight years, 30-year-old Nicole Dehn couldn't drive. In 2005, she had a seizure while driving and lost her license.

"I was very, very depressed. I mean it's a huge let down," Nicole told ABC30.

Nicole had her first epileptic seizure when she was just six months old and they got progressively worse. When medication failed, her only option was an invasive brain surgery that usually takes months to recover from.

"You actually remove a piece of the skull temporarily and then the surgeon has to go and physically remove or cut away the epileptic tissue," Jerry Shih, MD, Director, Comprehensive Epilepsy Program, Mayo Clinic, Florida, told ABC30.

However, Nicole opted for a different type of procedure called laser thermal ablation. A small hole is made in the back of the head and a laser probe is inserted into the skull. Using MRI guidance, heat from the laser then destroys the tissue causing the seizures.

"We're very excited, she is excited, our patients have really all enjoyed having this option for them as a procedure," Dr. Shih said.

Eight months after her procedure, Nicole is back to driving, and has been seizure-free ever since.

"Having my license back now, everything has just totally changed, new doors, new opportunities," Nicole said.

The therapy is already FDA approved for treatment of tumors in other parts of the body such as the liver and kidney, but only recently has it been available for the brain.

About 14 patients have undergone this treatment to date at the Mayo Clinic. And researchers say that so far their first five patients all had positive results which included shorter recovery times, decreased number of seizures, and possibly less cost than the standard surgery.

The research is ongoing, but Dr. Shih hopes that one day the laser thermal ablation will be the standard of care for epileptic patients.

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