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Sci-Tech
Monday, 11-September-2006
(AAP)- - The Australian research that led to the ground-breaking bionic ear is now set to revolutionise the treatment of epilepsy.

Researchers at Melbourne's St Vincent's Hospital are working with the Bionic Ear Institute to investigate new treatments by identifying epilepsy signature wave patterns - or electrical signals - that could prevent seizures by interrupting the patterns.

Professor Mark Cook, the hospital's director of clinical neuroscience and neurological research, said the hope was to build a device capable of detecting and treating seizures by either electrical stimulation or the delivery of drugs to the affected part of the brain.

"Epilepsy is a common and serious illness and a terribly disabling disease - the consequences, socially and economically, are awful, and epilepsy is the most-common serious neurological disease after strokes.

"We hope that by the end of the three-year project we will have the skills necessary to put a device together, but there are lots of technological and commercial aspects to that."

While the research held great promise for future treatments of epilepsy, Professor Cook warned the disease would probably never be fully beaten.

"Unfortunately, epilepsy is a symptom of many different diseases and often the underlying cause can't be treated.

"What this is about is controlling and treating seizures rather than curing the cause of them."

While development of a device to control seizures is still some years away, the research has been welcomed by Graeme Crawford, whose son Sam has battled epilepsy all his life.

Mr Crawford said the medical research team had worked closely with Sam, 22, who contracted viral encephalitis as a one-year-old and who now also suffers from cerebral palsy and cannot easily communicate.

"We are very positive about this and have been since the research project was first mooted," Mr Crawford said.

"We've kept daily records since Sam first had seizures, the types of seizures and when they occur - the St Vincent's team has a tremendous database on Sam to work from.

"Once they get past the technology part and see how it affects human beings, if we can play a small part in not only helping Sam but also many other people who have intractable epilepsy, we would be more than happy."

The Bionic Ear Institute also has been supported by the Victorian government, which has provided $8 million in funding to the research program.


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