‘Deep brain stimulation’ may hold hope for epileptic patients

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A recent clinical trial conducted by neurologists at Stanford University School of Medicine suggests that deep brain stimulation using implanted electrodes may help reduce seizures in epileptic patients. The results of the clinical trial, published online this week in the journal Epilepsia, showed that, patients whose brains were implanted with devices known as brain pacemakers—which send electrical impulses to specific parts of the brain—had a 40% reduction in seizures, compared with a 14% reduction in a control group.

The trial, led by Dr. Robert Fisher, director of the Stanford Epilepsy Center, included 110 patients between the ages of 18 to 65 who regularly experience partial seizures and were unresponsive to treatment with anti-epileptic drugs. After implantation of small, battery-powered devices into the anterior nuclei of thalamus for deep brain stimulation (DBS), participants were randomly assigned to either the experimental or control groups; those in the experimental group received regular stimulation during the initial three months, while those in the control group did not. Researchers and study participants were blinded to who was in which group.

After that initial three months, Fisher and colleagues found that seizures were reduced by 40% among those in the experimental group, compared with just 14% among those in the control group. After this initial three-month period, all 110 patients received regular DSB for the remainder of the 2-year clinical trial. After 13 months, 41% of all patients showed a reduction in seizures; after two years, 56% of patients were suffering fewer seizures. Additionally, two study participants were completely seizure-free for nine months of the trial, and 14 had no seizures for at least six months during the trial.

These exciting findings may offer hope to patients who regularly suffer from seizures and have been unable to find relief through other forms of treatment, yet Fisher emphasized that future research to determine which patients are the best candidates for this form of treatment is essential. And while there were no serious complications reported in this initial clinical trial, Fisher also stressed that use of implanted electrodes for deep brain stimulation is invasive and may have the potential for serious complications in some patients.