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The NHS is to roll out a “game-changing” new laser beam therapy next month to help reduce seizures for patients with epilepsy.

The cutting-edge fibre optic laser therapy, known as Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy (LITT), targets the part of the brain causing seizures without the need for invasive surgery.

The treatment will now be rolled out for eligible patients across England from June, being offered at King’s College Hospital in London and The Walton Centre in Liverpool as specialist national hubs.

The treatment involves drilling a tiny hole to allow a 1.5mm-wide probe with a fibre optic laser at the tip to be inserted into the skull. This reaches and destroys the epilepsy-causing brain tissue from the inside by heating it.

Using an MRI scanner, the clinical team navigate through the brain avoiding blood vessels and other critical structures. They also monitor the temperature of the surrounding areas to make sure healthy brain tissue does not overheat.

The wound heals quickly, meaning patients can go home the next day (within 24-48 hours) with minimal risk of infection or other side effects and can usually return to work and other activities within a week.

It is estimated that up to 50 patients in England each year whose epilepsy cannot be controlled by standard anti-seizure drugs will be eligible for LITT.

James Palmer, NHS England’s Medical Director for Specialised Services and a Consultant Neurosurgeon, said: “This laser beam therapy is game-changing for patients and will offer new hope on the NHS to those for whom standard drugs are not effective in controlling their seizures.

“Not only will this world-leading technology help replace invasive surgery for patients, which can have a huge impact take months to recover from, but it will also allow clinicians to better target the parts of the brain causing the epilepsy, which dramatically reduces the risks and helps cut patients’ recovery time both in and out of hospital.

“This pioneering new national service is the latest example of the NHS delivering on the Long-Term Plan commitment to ensure patients across the country have access to the latest and most effective treatments to help significantly improve their quality of life.”

Laura Diable, 39, from Birkenhead, was one of the first patients with epilepsy to have LITT at The Walton Centre.

She said: “Since having the procedure nearly a year ago, I’ve not had one seizure. It’s made a huge difference to my quality of life.

“Before, the seizures were incapacitating me, leaving black spots in my memory. Thanks to LITT I’ve been able to get on with my life and worry less about my epilepsy – I can’t thank the team at The Walton Centre enough.”

Around 600,000 people are currently living with Epilepsy across the UK (nearly one in 100 in the UK). Taking medicines to help stop or reduce seizures is the main treatment for epilepsy, but one in three people with the condition are not able to control their seizures with drugs alone and may need invasive neurosurgery to remove the epilepsy-causing part of the brain.

However not all patients are able to have neurosurgery because the source of the seizure is not able to be localised or is not accessible by standard surgical techniques.

Patients with focal epilepsy for whom standard surgery is not an option may be potentially eligible for the less invasive and more targeted LITT treatment This provides an opportunity for very effective treatment for some patients with focal epilepsy which has until now been unavailable.

Dr Andy Nicolson, Medical Director and Deputy CEO at The Walton Centre, said: “I’m delighted that we are now able to offer our patients with drug-resistant epilepsy this vital service.

“The team carried out a pilot involving three patients, using equipment generously funded by The Walton Centre Charity. Following this successful treatment, we are now one of only two Trusts in England approved to move forward with a full service for adults that can accommodate a higher volume of patients.”

Consultant Neurosurgeon Mr Jibril Osman Farah, who is the lead clinician delivering treatment at The Walton Centre, said: “It’s fantastic to be able to offer LITT to our patients. There is a very specific criteria to meet, we need to be able to see where in the brain the seizures are coming from, and that medication is ineffective in managing seizures. We’re excited to build this service at The Walton Centre and deliver groundbreaking care for patients.”

Mr Ranj Bhangoo, Consultant Neurosurgeon at King's College Hospital, said: “Severe epilepsy can be very difficult to live with and puts an enormous strain on patients and their families. This world-class, cutting-edge treatment, which is less invasive and reduces recovery time, is truly life-changing. Our teams are looking forward to helping more people living with epilepsy lead a normal life.”

Ley Sander, Medical Director at the Epilepsy Society and Professor of Neurology at University College London (UCL) said: “This non-invasive form of neurosurgery could be groundbreaking for some people with brain lesions whose seizures do not respond to conventional treatment options, including more invasive epilepsy surgery.

“It will make surgery safer and faster and dramatically cut the recovery period for individuals. We are particularly proud that the sophisticated navigation system which guides this pioneering surgery was developed at the Epilepsy Society’s MRI unit.

“This enables the surgical team to navigate safely to the exact area of the brain that is affected, avoiding blood vessels and critical structures. This is a great advance in epilepsy surgery as a treatment option for lesional epilepsy.”

Issued by NHS England Monday May 6th 2024