Purple Day and the Future of Epilepsy Care
As we near Purple Day, an annual international celebration held on March 26 to spread epilepsy awareness, research is leading to improved epilepsy therapies – with deep brain stimulation and early-detection leading the way.
Purple Day was founded in 2008 by nine-year-old Cassidy Megan of Nova Scotia. Megan, who has epilepsy, wanted to raise awareness for the disorder that affects one in 100 people, and now Purple Day is recognized in countries across the world.
Epilepsy is a brain disorder where individuals experience multiple seizures throughout their lifetime. Seizures, which can range from blank stares to uncontrolled body movements, occur due to bursts of electrical activity in the brain.
As the first line of treatment, people with epilepsy are prescribed anti-seizure medications. However, about one in three people continue to have seizures despite taking medications. This is classified as drug-resistant epilepsy, a condition that requires research into new and more effective treatment options.
The Epilepsy Research Program of the Ontario Brain Institute (EpLink) is an Ontario-based research program that works to improve treatments and quality of life for people living with drug-resistant epilepsy. EpLink has over 35 researchers in eight institutions across Ontario, including the University of Toronto.
Professors Hossein Kassiri, Tariqus Salam, Roman Genov and Jose Luis Perez-Velazquez have been developing new ways to detect seizure activity and apply brain stimulation. One of the hallmarks of seizure activity in the brain is synchronization, the EEG pattern that arises when brain cells fire at the same time. These researchers have found a way to detect synchronization and apply feedback-based brain stimulation in rats, which has proven to be effective.
These researchers found that they could identify seizure activity in the brain up to 30 seconds before the onset of the clinical seizure. In human temporal lobe epilepsy, the earliest achievable detection time has been 27 seconds. Researchers hope to start recruiting patients for a clinical trial, led by Dr. Taufik Valiante, and find conclusive evidence on whether brain stimulation can effectively stop seizures in adults with epilepsy.
In another EpLink-funded project, Drs. Peter Carlen, Martin del Campo and Professor Berj Bardakjian are collaborating to significantly improve seizure prediction using scalp electroencephalography (EEG) brain wave recordings. The goal is to create more accurate seizure diaries and warning systems for patients and to enable responsive electrical stimulation to treat and prevent seizures for patients who do not respond to drug therapy.
“These ongoing research studies highlight the great strides being made in recent years to treat epilepsy,” says Dr. McIntyre Burnham, Co-Director of EpLink. “Brain stimulation will undoubtedly become a staple of epilepsy care in the near future.”