Up to 150 people a year with epilepsy will have a potentially life-changing new form of surgery on the part of their brain that is causing their seizures, in an NHS initiative.
NHS England is making available a “world-leading” fiber-optic laser beam surgery that would let epilepsy sufferers avoid having to undergo neurosurgery, which is much more invasive.
Surgeons will start deploying the treatment at two as-yet unidentified hospitals, one each in the north and south of England, early next year. It is intended to help patients whose condition has not responded positively to anti-seizure drug treatments.
About 600,000 Britons – almost one in 100 of the population – have epilepsy. A third cannot control their condition using just medication. They may need to have neurosurgery to remove the part of their brain that is causing them to have seizures, which can be fatal.
Prof Sir Stephen Powis, NHS England’s national medical director, said: “This pioneering laser beam treatment for epilepsy patients is life-changing and will offer hope to hundreds of people every year who have not had success in preventing seizures with traditional drugs.
“By replacing invasive neurosurgery with a cutting-edge laser therapy, allowing clinicians to better target the parts of the brain causing epilepsy, we not only dramatically reduce risks to these patients but drastically reduce their recovery time both in and out of the hospital.”
While about 150,000 people have seizures, only about 10,000 of them are candidates to have neurosurgery, NHS England said. That is because the source of the seizure cannot be localized or the fits are not frequent or intense enough. Only a fraction of these people decides to have neurosurgery.
The people eligible for the new laser surgery will have focal epilepsy that has not been controlled by them taking maximum doses of two different drugs and who have been examined at an epilepsy surgery center.
Prof James Palmer, the NHS’s medical director for specialized services, said it was “a game-changing breakthrough for patients who have not had success with traditional forms of treatment to control their seizures and will give those with epilepsy a real chance to live a normal life”.
Patients will be able to go home the next day and resume work and normal activities a week later, whereas those who undergo neurosurgery stay in the hospital for a week and need to recover at home for three months.
Maxine Smeaton, the chief executive of Epilepsy Research UK, welcomed the move but added: “Chronic underinvestment in epilepsy research has meant effective treatments for everyone living with the condition are still decades away. Despite being one of the most common, serious neurological conditions, just 0.3% of the £4.8bn spent on health-related research was invested in epilepsy. We need more investment and more research so that we can achieve important patient innovations such as this.”
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