McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
affiliated faculty member Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara, MD, PhD (pictured), Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, is involved with a new, innovative surgical brain treatment at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC which can pinpoint the microscopic-sized area of the brain causing epileptic seizures in children. The cutting edge procedure developed in Pittsburgh begins with the technique called “mapping the brain” which uses a grid to locate the brain’s defective area. Once this area is located, it is then surgically removed. Dr. Tyler-Kabara reports that 75-80% of patients with epilepsy who have undergone this life-changing operation are now seizure-free 1 year post-surgery.
Once the area of the brain where the seizures are coming from is identified, the medical team then takes a 2-stage approach:
1. Electrodes are implanted on the brain and seizures are recorded.
2. Once the seizures are recorded, the same electrodes then are used to map the brain.
The mapping enables doctors to identify the patient’s precise language area or motor strip area in the brain. These areas can then be avoided during surgery thus preventing the patient from experiencing any deficits post-surgery.
Dr. Tyler-Kabara notes this new surgical technique is primarily for the 20-30% of children with epilepsy who will not outgrow their seizures or who are unable to have their seizures controlled with medication. She indicated that after careful evaluation, this is a small group of patients.
“That’s the group that we’re hoping we can provide with a life-changing surgery,” said Dr. Tyler-Kabara during a WQED On Q interview entitled “Mapping the Brain.”
Epilepsy is a neurological condition caused by sudden brief changes in the brain’s electrical balance. When there are excess electrical discharges in the brain, seizures occur. Seizures can alter awareness, physical movements, consciousness, or actions. Seizures generally last from a few seconds to a few minutes.
A person could have a seizure at any time during his or her life. In fact, it is estimated that 1 in 10 people will have a seizure during his or her lifetime. Approximately 1 to 2 percent of the population has epilepsy/seizure disorders. About one-third of the 186,000 cases diagnosed each year occur in childhood. However, senior citizens are increasingly diagnosed with epilepsy/seizure disorders.
The most common treatment for epilepsy/seizure disorders is antiepileptic medications. Many people with epilepsy are able to control their seizures with medications. However, the side effects of medications can be severe, and some people with epilepsy do not respond well to medications and have little or no control of seizures. Other forms of treatment, including surgery, a special diet, or vagus nerve stimulation may be tried if medication is not successful in reducing or eliminating seizures.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
WQED: Mapping the Brain, Part 1 (video)
WQED: Mapping the Brain, Part 2 (video)
Epilepsy Foundation of Western/Central PA
Bio: Dr. Elizabeth Tyler-Kabara