Grant winner 2015

“Drug-resistant focal epilepsies are notoriously difficult to manage, and they impact enormously on the lives of those of affected. Hopefully this technique will provide a new treatment option that will help to improve people’s quality of life and reduce epilepsy-related injuries.” Dr Antonio Valentin (pictured)

Grant type: Project grant

Principal investigator: Dr Antonio Valentin

Institution: King’s College London

Amount: £140,107

Duration: 24 months

Scientific titleCortical electrical stimulation for the treatment of focal epilepsy

Why is this research needed?
Approximately a third of people with epilepsy do not respond to existing anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) and surgery to remove the seizure focus (the region of the brain in which seizures originate) may not be an option for them.

Dr Valentin and his team are currently developing a new treatment called cortical electrical stimulation, which is designed for people whose epilepsy originates in one part of the brain, who are not eligible for surgery. The technique involves ‘blocking’ the abnormal area using an electrical current, and it has already been trialled in two people at King’s College Hospital, London. The initial results were promising, but further research is needed before the treatment can be offered more widely.

What are the aims?
The researchers plan to find out how safe and effective electrical stimulation of the epileptic focus is. They are particularly interested in how stimulation affects seizure frequency and any epilepsy-like activity in between seizures.

How will the research be carried out?
The team will recruit at least 25 people who have been assessed for epilepsy surgery (and are still in-patients), at King’s College Hospital and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. All subjects will undergo a period of video EEG monitoring, until they have experienced a certain number of seizures, and they will then receive several intervals of cortical electrical stimulation over 48 hours. For the first interval, half of the participants will in fact receive ‘pretend’ stimulation (although neither they nor the people analysing the results will be aware of this). This will serve as a control/comparison group.

The researchers will record the number of seizures each person has during the stimulation period, and they will also make a note of any side effects experienced (both during and after treatment). Once they have collated their data, the team will analyse it to find out if electrical cortical stimulation reduces seizure frequency. The control group (that didn’t receive the initial interval of stimulation) will help the researchers to judge whether any apparent benefit of stimulation is actually because of it and not something else.

 What difference will it make?
If this study is successful, cortical electrical stimulation could soon become a standard treatment for people with AED-resistant focal epilepsies (which are notoriously difficult to manage). This technique will not only provide improved quality of life, it will potentially help to reduce epilepsy-related injuries and even healthcare costs.