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Oregon Health & Science University performs brain surgery in clinical trial for epilepsySubscriber ExclusiveUpdated 3 hours ago

Columbian - 11/5/2022

Nov. 5—Oregon Health & Science University recently became the second center in the nation to perform a new type of brain procedure to treat epilepsy that is not controllable with medication.

"Epilepsy is a very common condition where people have a tendency toward having recurring seizures that usually need treatment to try to prevent them," said Dr. David Spencer, professor of neurology at the OHSU School of Medicine and the lead investigator for the clinical trial at OHSU.

In the United States, 1.2 percent of the population has active epilepsy; that's about 3 million adults and 470,000 children, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Kim Burchiel, professor of neurological surgery in the OHSU School of Medicine, performed the surgery Oct. 26 on a Portland resident who has an average of 14 seizures a month and for whom medication does not provide much relief, according to a press release.

"I'm not only hopeful, but I'm optimistic this is going to work," Burchiel said.

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The procedure was part of a clinical trial testing of a form of regenerative brain cell therapy sponsored by Neurona Therapeutics. The OHSU patient is the second of 10 patients nationwide to participate in the trials.

In the first phase of the trials, the procedure involves the one-time insertion of the NRTX-1001 neural cell therapy derived from human stem cells, according to the press release. The cells produce a GABA neurotransmitter that works to block overactive impulses between nerve cells in the brain with hopes of decreasing or eliminating seizures in qualifying epileptic patients.

"These inhibitory interneurons will, in effect, calm the cells down in the injured part of the temporal lobe that are causing seizures. So they are kind of like a blanket," Burchiel said.

The procedure showed promise and success in research prior to the beginnings of these trials, particularly when tested in animals to stop seizures, according to Burchiel.

The standard form of surgical treatment for patients with epilepsy has been removing a small portion of the brain where the seizures originate, Burchiel said.

"Where I see us moving now is into more of what I would call the restorative era," Burchiel said. "Neural restoration, the idea being don't remove it, don't necessarily use electrical impulses to try to modify it, but try to restore it. And that, to me ... I think it's the Holy Grail right now of what we do in neurology and neurosurgery."

If the therapy proves to be safe and effective in the clinical trial and is then approved by federal regulators, it will provide a new option for patients with epileptic seizures that are not controllable with medication. That accounts for about one-third of people with epilepsy, according to Spencer.

While still in Phase 1 of the clinical trials, the patients will be monitored for the next few years, and success will be hard to measure until after the first six months or so, according to Burchiel.


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