Growing More Popular, Treatment for Epilepsy Burns Brain Tissue

Burning brain tissue — it sounds like a bad idea, but it's actually a treatment growing in popularity for people who suffer with epileptic seizures. Health Reporter Erin Billups has the details.

Londell Copeland's seizures usually just left him dazed, murmuring. Other times, it put his life in danger, like when he nearly fell off a subway platform.

"I guess I was looking to see if the train was coming, and I just collapsed," Copeland recalled. "My son was terrified. He must have been three or four years old during that time."

A Good Samaritan caught him before he fell onto the tracks, keeping an eye on his son until he regained consciousness.

Copeland has been an epileptic since 2005, with the condition effectively paralyzing his life. He was afraid to go outside, and so was unable to work.

He was having seizures a couple times a week, and medication helped only a little bit.

"It worked for a while, and then my body got adjusted to it and I kept having seizure after seizure," Copeland said.

Epilepsy is often caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Unwilling to undergo standard brain surgery to remove the scarred area, Copeland chose a new, less invasive, treatment called laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT).

"We have now computers that can allow us to guide probes anywhere in the brain we want to, with incredible accuracy, and we can than place a small probe into the center of the seizure focus, because you know where it is, and burn it from the inside out, as opposed to having to work from the outside in, which involves all these incisions and surgeries," said Dr. Theodore Schwartz, a neurosurgeon for Weill Cornell Medicine.

Often the seizures originate in the hippocampus, an area that's important for memory.

"That part of the brain has been affected by the epilepsy and rewired and essentially destroyed by the epilepsy so that other parts of the brain take over the function for the part of the brain that we're removing," Schwartz said.

"And so when we remove it, it either has a minimal effect, or sometimes people's memory actually gets better," he continued.

Copeland had the surgery in May 2015, and he's only had one seizure since (he blames it on not taking his medication).

He is now, however, and says going outside is less scary. He's even able to hold down a job.

"My plan is to get a better job to help my family out more," Copeland said.

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