CTRI Academic-Community Epilepsy Pilot Project

MRIs utilizing PROscpective MOtion Correction (PROMO) technology which improves quality of images that may have motion.  Image on the left is pre-correction with PROMO.

MRIs utilizing PROscpective MOtion Correction (PROMO) technology which improves quality of images that may have motion.  Image on the left is pre-correction with PROMO.

February 28, 2013 - Epilepsy is a medical condition caused by abnormal electrical signals that cause surges within the brain. These surges, called seizures, can have various effects on mental and physical function, depending partly on the location in the brain where they occur. Although over two million Americans of all ages are affected by seizures, epilepsy is among the least understood of major chronic health conditions. There is limited understanding of the long-term effects of ongoing seizures on the developing brain.

Dr. Carrie McDonald of the UC San Diego Epilepsy Center hopes to change this, and has teamed up with the Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego County. Through a CTRI Academic-Community Partnership Pilot Grant, Dr. McDonald and the Foundation are collaborating to research brain structure and function in children with temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). This common form of epilepsy, marked by seizures that begin in one of the two temporal lobes of the brain, is associated with some memory problems for those that experience years of recurring seizures. Dr. McDonald believes that with a more accurate picture of how TLE affects a child's brain, we will be in a better position to improve treatment and academic planning that could allow a child with TLE to optimally function in educational and social environments.

Dr. McDonald and her team are working with children between 7 and 17 years of age who have epilepsy. Participants in this pilot study undergo a non-invasive MRI scan to create an image of their brain structure. They also complete some pencil-and-paper tasks. The study team strives to provide a fun and educational environment for the children, and parents are welcome to accompany their children during the testing process.

Though the study is still open for enrollment, clinically useful insight has already been gained. Namely, novel MRI techniques are now being used that have improved image quality for research. Children may have difficulty keeping still enough for traditional MRI imaging to take place. Utilizing PROspective MOtion Correction (PROMO) MRI technology, Dr. McDonald's team now has access to clearer brain images, even if study participants move while in the MRI machine. This improvement has the potential to increase comfort and feasibility of brain imaging, and, as Dr. McDonald hopes, can eventually lead to more accurate diagnoses.

Although MRI and other tests take place at the UCSD Multimodal Imaging Laboratory, the role of the Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego County is equally important to the success of this study. As a valued source of support, education and information for the estimated 50,000 people in San Diego County who have seizures, the Foundation also connects individuals to innovative epilepsy research such as Dr. McDonald's. As a co-recipient of the CTRI Academic-Community Partnership Pilot Grant, the Foundation provides study information to its clientele via website, activities and liaison-led support groups. According to Dr. McDonald, the Foundation's community liaisons "provide a critical and often missing link between researchers/clinicians and patients who may mutually benefit from the relationships that develop".

Dr. McDonald appreciates that collaboration with the community goes beyond data collection. Her team has participated for years in the Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego County's community events, fundraisers, and educational seminars. Holly Girard, who has led the efforts on this pediatric epilepsy project, has been actively involved as a volunteer at various Epilepsy Foundation projects including an Expressive Arts program. Importantly, once their current research project closes, Dr. McDonald will present results to the community at an event hosted by the Epilepsy Foundation.

Why build relationships with community organizations such as the Epilepsy Foundation? According to Ms. Girard, "we have learned that the best way to gain ideas and support is by interacting with the community". This relationship, strengthened through a CTRI Pilot Grant, has also benefitted the Epilepsy Foundation. Kathy West, the agency's Executive Director, notes that the project has provided the "opportunity to partner with UCSD in reaching out to the many families and individuals we serve, sharing information on the latest research as well as the importance of community participation in the advancement of scientific understanding of the brain."

This pilot research study is still open to enrollment of more children with temporal lobe epilepsy. To learn more about participation, please contact hgirard@ucsd.edu, or call (858) 246-0291.