A new brain-scanning technique developed by Melbourne researchers could provide hope for 40,000 Australians suffering from a crippling form of epilepsy by identifying suitable candidates for surgery that can stop their seizures.

Using the new technology, doctors can identify previously undetectable scarring in the brain that causes intractable epilepsy, a severe form of the disease that does not respond to medication.

While there is an 80per cent success rate in reducing epileptic seizures using surgery, very few epilepsy patients are considered suitable for the procedure. The new technology will identify far more patients who should be undergoing surgery.

About 200,000 Australians have some form of epilepsy.

“This technology will greatly improve treatment options for people with epilepsy,” Ingrid Scheffer, an epilepsy neurologist at the University of Melbourne and Austin Hospital, told The Australian.

People with epilepsy usually undergo a magnetic resonance imaging scan, followed by lifelong medication to control seizures or, in rare cases, surgery to remove damaged brain tissue.

However, existing MRI scans do not always identify the exact location and extent of brain scarring, making it difficult for doctors to predict who would benefit from surgery.

Pioneered by a team at the Brain Research Institute and Melbourne University’s Epilepsy Research Centre at the Austin Hospital, the new technology allows for more extensive imaging inside the brain.

Doctors have performed surgery on almost 40 patients, stopping seizures in about 20 of them, with a further 10 experiencing a reduction in seizures from about one a week to just one a year.

“We know scarring of the middle part of the temporal lobe is the commonest cause of intractable epilepsy in children and adults,” Professor Scheffer said. “These new techniques help us to refine existing MRI scanning and pick up more subtle abnormalities.”

Mia Scundi developed intractable epilepsy when she was 15 months old and experienced up to 20 seizures a day throughout her childhood and teens.

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