News | 22 August 2019

Epilepsy patients examined in world's most powerful MRI scanner

Study made possible by a grant from the Dutch National Epilepsy Fund

For the first time ever, epilepsy patients will undergo an examination in the world's most powerful MRI scanner. Researchers hope that the MRI images will enable them to trace the source of seizures in patients where this was not previously possible. The examinations are part of a study being conducted by neurosurgeons and neurologists from the Academic Centre for Epileptology, a partnership between Maastricht UMC+ and Kempenhaeghe Medical Centre. The study has been made possible by a grant of more than €200,000 from the Dutch National Epilepsy Fund.

The 7-Tesla MRI scanner at ScannexusThe 7-Tesla MRI scanner at ScannexusEpilepsy is a common, chronic brain disorder characterised by repeated seizures. The brain experiences a temporary short-circuit, as it were. In some patients, the short circuit occurs at one specific place in the brain. This is known as a focal seizure. In many cases, doctors can use a conventional hospital MRI scanner to detect the abnormality that is causing the short circuit. Neurosurgeons can then operate and remove the potential source of the seizures. In three out of ten patients, however, the MRI scan shows no abnormality, significantly reducing the likelihood of successful surgery and, consequently, a cure. "There are reasons to believe that more powerful MRI scanners can do better," says neurologist Dr Albert Colon, project coordinator on behalf of Kempenhaeghe.

Magnetic field
The power of an MRI scanner is expressed in Tesla (T), the unit used to measure magnetic fields. The more powerful the magnetic field, the more accurate and detailed the scan. The average hospital MRI scanner has a maximum strength of 3T. The research institute Scannexus, located near Maastricht UMC+, has both a 7T and a 9.4T MRI scanner. There are only five 9.4T MRI scanners operational worldwide. They are usually used to gain fundamental knowledge about the human brain, but in this case the scans will be meant specifically for diagnostic purposes.

More personalised treatment
A total of sixty patients eligible for epilepsy surgery will be selected to participate in the new study. Most will be scanned with the 7T MRI scanner. One in six will be eligible for a 9.4T MRI scan. "It's fantastic that we can use these innovative techniques for our diagnostics," says neurosurgeon Dr Olaf Schijns, project coordinator on behalf of Maastricht UMC+. "In the end, we hope to trace the brain abnormality and the potential source of seizures in almost every patient so that we can offer them personalised treatment and improve the likelihood of a cure."

The EpiUltraStudy is a collaborative research project involving the Academic Centre for Epileptology (ACE) at Maastricht UMC+ and Kempenhaeghe, the School for Mental Health and Neuroscience (MHeNS) at Maastricht University, the Neurosurgery Department at Aachen University Hospital (Germany) and Scannexus.