Dr. Warnke in the OR at the Center for Care and Discovery

UChicago Medicine’s neuroscience program has assembled a team of neurological experts highly skilled in evaluating and treating even the most complex and challenging nervous system disorders. Our physicians have demonstrated expertise in helping patients considered untreatable at other hospitals.

  • Comprehensive Stroke Center by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO)
  • Level 4 Epilepsy Center by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers
  • Information and Referral Center by the American Parkinson Disease Association
  • Performs hundreds of brain and spine tumor operations every year with image-guided minimally invasive laser ablation and a variety of radiation therapies
  • Nation’s first Center of Excellence for Cerebral Cavernous Malformations (CCM)
  • One of the first hospitals to treat Parkinson’s disease with drug pumps and spinal and brain electrodes
  • Extensive experience performing deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery
2020 Stroke Gold Plus Award
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Stopping seizures: seizure mapping and laser ablation surgery

Seizure mapping and laser ablation surgery.

For patients with seizures that cannot be controlled by medication, minimally invasive, image-guided surgery might be an option. At the University of Chicago Medicine, our neurology and neurosurgery experts work together to identify the exact focus or starting point of your seizures prior to surgery. They use different types of brain maps to identify precisely where your seizures are originating. Then they remove or oblate the smallest amount of tissue possible to provide relief from seizures with minimal side effects.

How does the team identify the focus of your seizures?

First, your neurologist will analyze the pattern of symptoms that happened during your seizures. This process is called seizure semiology. The events that happened during a seizure come from specific parts of your brain. So the seizure semiology provides a map of where the seizure is going in your brain. This is the first step to identifying where your seizures may be starting.

Next, a scalp EEG, or electroencephalogram, tracks the electrical activity of the brain. And your neurologist uses this information to create a second brain map. Then you will undergo an MRI, magnetic resonance imaging, PET, positron emission tomography, or SPECT, single photon emission computed tomography scan. The neurologist analyzes the scan results in conjunction with the EEG to further understand what is happening in your brain. Sometimes, another mapping technique, an MEG, magnetoencephalogram, is also used.

Finally, using data from all available brain maps, your neurosurgeon implants thin depth electrodes into your brain for one to two weeks. The electrodes detect the exact location, or locations, where the seizures start. The information gathered from the electrodes will tell your physician team exactly where to operate.

How does a laser ablation procedure treat epilepsy?

During a laser ablation procedure, also known as laser interstitial thermal therapy, LITT, a neurosurgeon uses targeted laser technology to deliver heat to ablate or destroy the cells responsible for causing seizures. To reach the impacted areas of the brain, the surgeon makes a tiny incision about the size of the barrel of a pen in the skull. They will remove your hair to have a clear view, but don't worry, it will all grow back. The surgeon uses a stereotactic frame, or a robot, in conjunction with an intraoperative CT in the operating room to see exactly where the laser should be applied, and then inserts the laser probe into your brain at the exact area of the seizure focus.

Because of the detailed mapping process performed before surgery, the neurosurgeon knows exactly where to target the ablation so that only the responsible cells are destroyed. The actual ablation is then carried out in the MRI scanner under continuous image monitoring and real-time assessment of the brain temperature. Every seven seconds, the ablated tissue is assessed with a precision of 0.5 millimeters. Critical brain structures are monitored and protected by a safety temperature limit, shutting off the laser automatically if a critical temperature is reached.

After the laser ablation is complete, your surgical incision is closed, and you will spend one to two days in the hospital before going home. Most people get back to their normal lives within one week.

The efficacy of the laser procedure depends on the type of epilepsy and the location of the seizure focus. You will want to continue to see your neurologist to manage any symptoms.

UChicago Medicine's neurosciences teams are some of the most experienced in the country for the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy, and our neurosurgeons have implanted more than 300 laser fibers. Our care team members will support you each and every step of the way to identify, treat, and effectively manage your seizures.

To learn more or to make an appointment with our Level 4 Epilepsy Center, visit UChicagoMedicine.org/Epilepsy or call 773-702-6222.

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