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Neuroscience undergrad involved in studying new method to detect seizure onset zones

Personal connection draws student's interest; learn more at Markin USRP mini-symposium April 7
April 6, 2017
Neuroscience undergrad Tefani Perera is involved in a research project that hopes to develop a new non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique. Photo by Stephanie Vahaaho, University of Calgary

Neuroscience undergrad Tefani Perera is involved in a research project that hopes to develop a new non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique. Photo by Stephanie Vahaaho, University of Calgary

The Markin Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) in Health & Wellness has provided $2,820,565 worth of studentships since 2002 and has given students like Tefani Perera, who have a profound interest in health and wellness research, the opportunity to gain research experience and grow personally and academically.

Perera is finishing up the second year of her neuroscience major and has spent the last five months working under the mentorship of Dr. Paolo Federico from the Cumming School of Medicine. Dr. Federico’s research focuses on gaining a greater understanding, through functional and structural imaging, of how focal seizures are caused and how seizures affect the brain. Perera was drawn to this research topic after a close friend was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2015. Perera says she was “intrigued with how a focal seizure in the brain could disrupt a brain-wide phenomenon such as consciousness and alter someone's life so dramatically.”

Study looks at alternatives to traditional surgical treatment for epilepsy

Currently there are approximately 54,000 Canadians who suffer from seizures that cannot be controlled by anti-seizure medication. Seizures are a disorder of the central nervous system and because of this, their physical effects can be felt throughout the entire body. The onset of a seizure is often unpredictable and as a result, can have a huge impact on the emotional well-being of the individual. In these individuals, a potential treatment option is to surgically remove the seizure onset zone, the area of the brain that generates the seizures.

Due to limitations with current imaging methods, the surgical cure rate for these patients is less than 50 per cent. Perera is involved in a research project that aims to develop a new non-invasive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique to better identify and remove the entire seizure onset zone, and therefore potentially improve the post-surgical outcome for the patient.

“The goal of this project was to support the clinical implementation of a new imaging technique, arterial spin labelled (ASL) MRI to study post-seizure reductions in blood flow that serve as a biomarker for the seizure onset zone. ASL MRI offers a greater spatial resolution and is less labour-intensive and costly than other currently used imaging techniques,” says Perera.

This study is the first to use ASL MRI immediately following seizures and will hopefully encourage the implementation of ASL MRI as a standard imaging method for post-seizure patients in the near future. “Our study is unique in that all patients were in hospital undergoing video-EEG monitoring and all patients were imaged within 90 minutes of seizure termination, as it was recently discovered in the Teskey lab in Calgary that post-seizure hypoxia and hypoperfusion last up to 60 minutes.”

Mini-symposium April 7 to showcase undergrad research

If you are interested in learning more about arterial spin labelled (ASL) MRI and how this non-invasive technique has the potential to be a complementary diagnostic tool in locating the seizure zone in individuals living with epilepsy, come and meet Perera at the Markin USRP Student Research Mini-Symposium at the Rozsa Centre on April 7. This event will open your eyes to the research being conducted by undergraduate students here at the University of Calgary. 

Visit www.ucalgary.ca/usrp for more information about the Markin USRP and the Markin USRP Student Research Mini-Symposium.