The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health announced it has received $1 million to further develop magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to help improve epilepsy diagnosis and treatment.

The project, funded by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Frontiers initiative, will use advanced neuroimaging with artificial intelligence (AI)-based prediction to improve management of epilepsy.

Florey’s team creates detailed images of the brain to reveal electrical activity and guide surgeons in theatre when surgical intervention is possible.

The Precision Medicine for Epilepsy project will also result in an expanded, coordinated epilepsy patient recruitment network for neuroimaging, which will be coordinated by the Florey’s imaging team and leverage the infrastructure of the National Imaging Facility.

More than 60 million people world-wide live with epilepsy and of these, 30 per cent are resistant to drug treatments and 80 per cent are not suited for surgical intervention.

“Advancing care for people living with epilepsy will take a team effort,” Professor Graeme Jackson, a deputy director of Florey, said in a statement. “I’m delighted to be bringing together brain imaging, neuroscientists, clinicians, advocacy groups and government for people who experience epilepsy.”

The quality and details of the MRI images at Florey allow neurosurgeons to precisely identify and remove critical small areas of brain tissue that will cure their epilepsy, which minimises the patient’s risk of losing speech, movement and other essential skills.

The Florey is currently home to a team of 40 medical researchers dedicated to understanding the spectrum of epilepsies, with a particular emphasis on very young children.

They look into the causes of genetic epilepsies, design and test new medications, and study large populations in an effort to test their discoveries in the lab.

A particular focus of the Florey team is Dravet syndrome, a genetic dysfunction of the brain that causes children to experience severe developmental disabilities.

They rely on a range of specialists and combinations of ineffective medications to limit the impact of this devastating disease — Jackson said he hopes that by identifying and targeting the effects of the underlying mutations they can make a meaningful difference to those children’s lives.

The MRFF Frontiers initiative broadly aims to transform healthcare and stimulate growth in national medical technologies, as well as in the biomedical and pharmaceutical sectors.

The project also hopes to find solutions to prevent delays and ineffective treatment of epilepsy, which currently is associated with repeated brain-damaging seizures, cognitive decline, and excess epilepsy-related deaths

The project’s other goals include the prevention of unnecessary side effects from use of ineffective medications and inadequate brain surgeries, and providing new targets for handling treatment-resistant epilepsies.

 

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