Some adults with epilepsy that does not respond to standard anti-seizure medication may benefit from a treatment that delivers low-intensity ultrasonic waves to the brain, a study published Wednesday by the journal Epilepsia found.

The treatment, called focused ultrasound, uses sound waves to heat the brain tissue in the region in which a person’s epileptic seizures originate, the researchers said.

The sound waves are delivered using a small device implanted in the brain that senses the onset of a seizure and generates pulses of sound waves to effectively short-circuit the process, according to the researchers.

Unlike high-intensity focused ultrasound, which is used in surgical procedures to heat and cut human tissue, low-intensity, pulsed focused ultrasound alters the function of neurons, or brain cells, and suppresses “epileptic signal bursts.”

In this small, pilot study that involved six adults with drug-resistant epilepsy, two participants had fewer seizures within three days of receiving focused ultrasound, the data showed.

However, three participants showed no change in seizure activity and one showed signs of more frequent subclinical seizures, meaning those that occur without outward symptoms, the researchers said.

“Neuromodulation is an alternative treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy,” study co-author Dr. Hsiang-Yu Yu said in a press release.

“It gives new hope and sheds new light for patients with drug-resistant epilepsy,” said Yu, a neurologist at Taipei Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes recurrent seizures that may vary in intensity from brief and nearly undetectable to long, vigorous shaking due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disorder affects about 1% of the people in the United States, roughly one-third of whom do not respond to any of the more than 20 anti-seizure medications available, research suggests.

Most anti-seizure medications are anti-convulsant drugs designed to target specific brain cells believed to involved in the seizure process.

Low-intensity focused ultrasound delivers sound waves to these same brain regions, though, to date, most research into its potential use in epilepsy has involved studies in animals, according to Yu and her colleagues.

For this study, the researchers implanted a small device designed to deliver low-intensity focused ultrasound bursts in the brains of six adults with epilepsy.

Electroencephalographic imaging tests revealed no negative effects on the brain following implantation, the researchers said.

However, one study participant reported feeling heat on their scalp during the treatment.

In addition, one participant experienced temporary memory loss that resolved within three weeks, according to the researchers.

Although not all of the participants benefited from the treatment, the fact that some did suggests it is worth further investigation in larger studies, the researchers said.

“Compared with the present modalities used in neuromodulation for epilepsy, focused ultrasound can access deeper brain regions,” Yu said.

It can also “focus on the main target of the epileptic network in a relatively less invasive approach,” she said.

SOURCE: by Brian Dunleavy

Photo Credit: Radiology Center Nagpur