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August 01, 2001

Debbie Neufert
Media Relations, LHSC
519-685-8500, ext. 74772

Researcher completes world's first study to help epilepsy sufferers

(LONDON, Ontario) - For the first time ever, there is strong evidence to support that surgery, not medication, is the key to improved quality of life for a large group of people struggling with epilepsy. This leading edge study, completed by a research team at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), has been published in the latest edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

It is the world's first randomized, controlled trial to determine the efficacy and safety of surgery for temporal lobe epilepsy, one of the most common causes of epilepsy. The study was led by Dr. Samuel Wiebe (weeb), Neurologist, and the Director of LHSC's Epilepsy Unit, one of the two largest referral centres in Canada for epilepsy patients. Dr. Wiebe is also an Associate Professor, Clinical Neurological Sciences at the University of Western Ontario.

The four-year study took place at LHSC, and involved eighty epilepsy patients, both male and female, between the ages of sixteen and fifty. Half the group was treated medically, the other surgically, which involved removing a small portion of the brain in the temple area. In the end, fifty-eight per cent of those treated surgically were seizure-free, compared to only eight per cent in the group treated medically. For the patients, no more seizures means fewer drugs, or no drugs at all. It also opens the door to getting a job, driving a car again, and a much better quality of life.

Dr. Wiebe says, "The study proves what we believed all along, that medical treatment of this common type of epilepsy was futile. Until now, lack of strong scientific evidence has prevented both doctors and patients from seeking surgery, or it was used as a last resort. As a result, countless patients lost the best years of their lives."

The average age of a patient referred for surgical treatment at LHSC is thirty-four, and epilepsy usually first presents itself in the early teen years. Wiebe adds, "Now we have the proof we need in the hope that epilepsy sufferers will choose surgery much sooner after their diagnosis, and get their life back sooner as well."

Louise De Acetis' (day-ah-CHET-iss) life was changed dramatically by epilepsy surgery at LHSC. De Acetis suffered temporal lobe seizures and failed medical trials for seventeen years. During that time, for about five to ten days each month, De Acetis' life was disrupted by temporal lobe seizures which, among many other things, would take her away from her job, not allow her to drive a car, and most importantly prevented her from having another child because of the many medications. De Acetis says, "It was like living in a continuous loop that robbed me of my quality of life." However, everything changed when she finally opted for surgery five years ago. Since that time De Acetis has not had any seizures, is no longer on medication, and is enjoying life again. De Acetis says, "It's been an amazing change, and that is an understatement. The surgery has given me freedom. I can now do what I want, when I want, something most people take for granted." De Acetis adds, "What I am most excited about, is the fact that I was able to have another child. The surgery has made all the difference in my life."

Others involved in the study at LHSC were Dr. Warren Blume, Neurologist, Dr. Andrew Parrent, Neurosurgeon, Dr. John Girvin, Neurosurgeon, and Dr. Michael Eliasziw, Biostatistician, University of Western Ontario.