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Partnership behind new hope for Queenslanders with drug-resistant epilepsy

Researchers at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Mater Centre for Neurosciences and Queensland University of Technology will join forces to develop new diagnostic and treatment tools for doctors working with patients who have debilitating, drug-resistant epilepsy.

The partnership’s ground-breaking work has the backing of the Queensland Government.

QIMR Berghofer project leader Professor Michael Breakspear said the team will use world-leading diagnostic imaging techniques to improve treatment of epilepsy through brain stimulation.

“We are building on the latest research in neurology and systems neuroscience and taking it straight to the hospital bedside where it can help people with epilepsy in Queensland,” he said.

“Our work will secure improved health outcomes for patients and make it easier for doctors to diagnose and treat chronic seizures, with fewer negative side-effects.

“Translating and commercialising this technology for clinical practice is a game-changer for Queensland and will build our medical diagnostic and medical device industry capabilities.”

Mater researcher and Mater Centre for Neurosciences Epileptologist Dr Sasha Dionisio said practical requirements at the Advanced Epilepsy Unit will drive the project, ensuring the effective translation of cutting-edge research to clinical practice.

“When determining the progression of a patient’s epileptic seizures, doctors must take into account brain information acquired through multiple imaging, neurophysiology and observational processes,” he said.

“There are currently no dedicated tools available to support this vital decision-making process.

“That’s why we will develop new software to build a network view that makes it easier for neurologists to see different types of brain activity, at the one time.

“We will also develop clinical procedures and software that maps the strength of connections in the brains of epilepsy patients, measured by giving them electrical pulses. Our goal is to make this procedure practical to deploy in more hospitals.”

QUT’s Associate Professor Patrick Johnston said the team will pilot new methods of stimulating the brain to enhance decision making before surgery and improve treatment.

“A clearer picture of the seizure process will allow doctors to undertake interventions that are smaller scale and more targeted, which can mean more effective treatment with less impairment of function post-surgery,” Associate Professor Johnston said.

“We hope to be in a position to progress clinical trials at the end of the three-year partnership period.”

Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy Leeanne Enoch said this vital research was being supported by $1.5 million from the Palaszczuk Government, as part of its $15 million Advance Queensland Innovation Partnerships Program.

“Because many cases of epilepsy don’t respond to medicine, it’s vital we invest in developing alternative treatment models and diagnostic tools,” Ms Enoch said.

“Advances in managing the unpredictable nature of these seizures and helping patients identify the right treatment for them, could be life-changing for many.”

Professor Breakspear said it was his hope that successful completion of the project targeting epilepsy would open up the door to more effective treatment of other disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

The partnership builds on the ongoing work of Professor Breakspear and Dr Christine Guo, funded through a Clinical Collaboration award at QIMR Berghofer, and uses the cutting-edge Herston Imaging Research Facility (HIRF).