Epilepsy is a central nervous system disorder in which nerve cell activity in the brain becomes disrupted. It is one of the most common neurologic conditions, affecting about 3 million Americans. However, only two-thirds of patients get some relief from medications.
"But that leaves a third or roughly a million people with epilepsy who, despite taking medicine – say, twice a day, every day – continue to have seizures," says Gregory Worrell, M.D., Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist.
"I tried numerous medications that weren't working," says Chris White, who's lived with epilepsy since birth. "There's a constant fear of what's going to happen today."
For White, relief came in the form of high-tech brain stimulation that was developed and approved for treating conditions such as chronic pain and Parkinson's disease.
Dr. Worrell’s work in regenerative medicine integrates basic scientific discovery, engineering and clinical trials with the goal of improving the lives of patients with epilepsy. More than cell-based therapies, regenerative medicine means to replace, engineer or regenerate cells, tissues or organs in order to restore or establish normal function. The Center for Regenerative Medicine is supporting the development of a new service line for restorative care through the use of an implantable neural device for drug resistant focal epilepsy.
"My life has changed 180 degrees," White says with a smile on his face. "I've been able to become employed full time, with benefits. I'm able to be anywhere. I can think of having a family."
White says he is counting new blessings these days. Among these blessings is his new wife, Tina.
"She's amazing," he says. "You know, full of life, always there, you know, caring, outgoing. Just phenomenal."
For people with epilepsy, seizures severely limit their ability to perform tasks where even a momentary loss of consciousness could prove disastrous — driving a car, swimming or holding an infant, for example.
"It feels like you never know what's going to happen if you're even going to be able to maybe leave the house," White says.
Jamie Van Gompel, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon, says most epilepsy patients respond well to medications for controlling their seizures. Unfortunately, none worked for White. So a team of specialists at Mayo Clinic looked for other solutions to help him.
Since surgery was too risky, the Mayo Clinic team decided to try to suppress them with continuous mild brain stimulation of another kind.
For White, the results were immediate. Except for one episode triggered by a car accident, he's had no more epileptic seizures.
"The feasibility and the safety – that we can control that region of brain and keep the patient from having seizures – that's really exciting," Dr. Worrell says.
Tags: brain stimulation, Chris White, Dr. Gregory Worrell, Dr. Jamie Van Gompel, Dr. Matt Stead, epilepsy, Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine, Medical Research, Neurology, Neuroregeneration, News, regenerative medicine, Research