By Mitch Jackson
The future of epilepsy research involves a wide range of areas, from medical marijuana to wearable headsets that can monitor brainwaves.
EpLink – The Epilepsy Research Program of the Ontario Brain Institute began in 2010 with a mandate to reduce seizures and improve quality of life for people with epilepsy through research.
“We have a number of research themes,” explained Kathryn Hum, EpLink’s Program Manager.
“We also have a Community Advisory Committee, made up of people living with epilepsy, family members, health care providers, and representatives from community epilepsy agencies who are able to advise on the direction of our research.”
The research that EpLink carries out is centered on a few themes.
EpLink is always trying to find new drugs that will stop seizures or find new ways to use current drugs to increase effectiveness.
Studies in Surgery
This involves researching more effective surgical techniques to find where seizures begin in the brain so that the process will be safer, without impacting critical brain functions.
EpLink looks at various diets, including how a high fat, low carb diet can reduce seizures, particularly amongst children.
Brain Monitoring and Modulation
EpLink researches how to prevent seizures using brain stimulation and monitoring brain waves.
EpLink is researching how changes in genes can lead to the development of epilepsy, and how to create therapies that target these genetic changes.
Quality of Life
EpLink is also researching new intervention programs for other health conditions that are associated with epilepsy, including depression and problems with learning and memory.
Aside from its focus on research, EpLink also works on getting patients the information they need to make healthcare decisions.
Part of this involves adapting information so that it is accessible, hosting public events, and carrying out public awareness and education campaigns on topics such as depression and medical marijuana.
Kathryn Hum and Amaya Singh, the Knowledge Transition Lead, gave some insight into what research is currently underway.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Epilepsy Education
EpLink is currently conducting a clinical study which is comparing the effectiveness of two programs – a mindfulness cognitive behavioural therapy program and a program that teaches epilepsy information and strategies for patients to manage their own care.
“These programs are offered over the phone, in groups of 6-8 people, so that travel is not required,” said Hum.
“They provide an opportunity for people with epilepsy to talk to each other and also provides support.”
The comparison was inspired by evidence which suggests that basic epilepsy education can improve symptoms of depression.
Brain Waves Research
There are researchers right now who are working on monitoring brain waves using a wireless headset that a patient can wear throughout the day.
Researchers use this data to build algorithms to try to predict when a seizure will occur.
The next step involves implanting electrodes in the brain, and stimulating the brain in that area to prevent seizures from happening.
You can find out more information about the headset at avertus.ca. Avertus hopes that this headset will be on the market very soon after the algorithms have been tested.
EpLink has submitted an application to Health Canada to test a cannabis extract, cannabidiol (CBD), which is known to be effective in decreasing seizures without the psychological effects of THC.
Approval from Health Canada was granted in late 2017. EpLink hopes to begin recruiting adults with uncontrolled seizures in early 2018. Studies in the United States are often focused on children, so EpLink hopes to add to this area of research by diversifying the participants.
EpLink continues to strive towards their vision of a world without epilepsy, and Epilepsy Ottawa is thrilled to see this great research being carried out in Ontario.