New Center Targets Epilepsy

Erin Dostal

By Erin DostalThe Daily Northwestern

Doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital hope to transform the hospital’s three-month-old epilepsy center into one of the country’s foremost programs for treating the disease.

The Northwestern University Comprehensive Epilepsy Center brings together many of the hospital’s existing epilepsy programs, including special programs for children, pregnant women and elderly people suffering from the disorder.

“It was somewhat available but never in the same one-stop place that it is now,” said Dr. Joshua Rosenow, director of functional neurosurgery and a professor of neurological surgery at the Feinberg School of Medicine. “Things were much more fragmented.”

The hospital also formed strong ties with a team of experts at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Rosenow said.

“We handle adults, they handle kids,” he said. “So I think that no other center in the city is as well-prepared to handle the gamut as well as Northwestern University, dividing us between Children’s and NMH.”

The new efforts are meant to help set the hospital apart from other epilepsy centers.

“We never had an infrastructure or the equipment which would allow us to be top notch when compared to maybe 50 other centers in the country,” said Dr. Stephan U. Schuele, the NU center’s director and a professor of neurology at Feinberg.

Scientists have learned a lot about the disease in the past 15 years, Schuele said. New medications and surgical techniques are available, and improved imaging technologies allow for more precise diagnoses.

The knowledge has helped doctors offer more effective treatments, Rosenow said. For example, physicians now know that if a patient doesn’t respond to an aggressive regimen of two or three medications, the chances of them benefiting from more medications is slim. These patients are often referred to surgeons for a consultation, Rosenow said.

About 80,000 people in the Chicago area have epilepsy, Schuele said.

Dance Marathon 2007 chose Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy as its primary beneficiary. DM leaders said they chose CURE in part to build awareness about the disease.

“The treatment center shows that epilepsy is getting more attention,” said Nadia Rawls, a Weinberg senior and one of the Dance Marathon co-chairs in 2007. “(Epilepsy) does tend to get put on the back burner.”

Rosenow said he hopes the center can move the disease into the foreground.

“We’re trying to show people that epilepsy needs to be treated more aggressively than it has been treated in the past,” Rosenow said.

The hospital hired one new nurse and five new technicians for the center, Schuele said. Medical residents and Feinberg students also aid in the center’s research.

The new center has kicked the hospital’s epilepsy research programs into “high gear,” Rosenow said. This includes looking into Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy, a condition which currently has no explanation. People who suffer from epilepsy are about 10 to 20 times more likely to die suddenly than those who do not have the disease, Rosenow said.

“Certainly what we can provide now is a much more advanced platform for taking care of patients with epilepsy,” Rosenow said. “Before (Schuele) arrived, we certainly were not as able to offer the range of advanced services we can now.”

Reach Erin Dostal at [email protected]