The Section of Pediatric Neurology has a history of combining excellent patient care with groundbreaking research, beginning with the first ever Certificate of Pediatric Neurology being awarded to a physician at this institution. The longstanding tradition and commitment to excellence continues today in our program.
Leading edge clinical care and scientific research is ongoing in the University of Chicago’s Section of Pediatric Neurology. It is the Comprehensive Pediatric Epilepsy Center with the support of the Falk Medical Trust foundation that is at the core of our research activity. The Center has already grown into one of the nation’s busiest clinical programs since its inception in the summer of 1999 and is on par with institutions such as the Cleveland Clinic, Miami Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The overall focus of the center’s research program is the application of leading edge technologies to human brain disorders, within the framework of modern basic neurosciences concepts. The first technology was a digital signal processing technique called adaptive beam forming, applied to the problem of non-invasively identifying the anatomic site of onset of seizures. We simultaneously introduced the technique into clinical use, particularly for cases in which the sources were deep within the brain, using these very demanding cases for validation of the technology. We have expanded and refined this technology while at the same time inviting collaborative interaction with the University of Illinois Engineering Department. This collaboration has already resulted in an NIH award supporting our continued collaboration.
The second area of technology innovation is in the area of predicting the occurrence of a seizure. This is a classic and unsolved problem whose solution bears with it the possibility of creating entirely new therapeutic options. We have established collaborative links with the Applied Physics and Mathematics Department at Delft Technical University, The Netherlands, to accelerate the pace of innovation in this area. Delft is the home of one of the true innovators in the field of non-linear dynamical systems analysis (deterministic chaos), named Dr. Floris Takens. This work has resulted in several abstracts and the publication of one of the first successful studies to predict seizures in children, up to 40 minutes prior to their occurrence. We are now working on methods of combining the source localization and seizure prediction technologies and making these technologies age specific, in collaboration with scientists at Argonne National Laboratory. Further, we are one of the finalists for an award from Medtronics, the leading implanted stimulator company in the world, to develop the technology to build implanted seizure detection and prediction devices, which could disrupt the unfolding of a seizure.
We then applied this localization technology into the area of comparing the cellular activity in epileptic versus non-epileptic tissue from pediatric patients undergoing surgical resection of their seizure focus. We are quite excited in using this technology, in combination with the patch-clamp work of the laboratory of Dr. Jan-Marino Ramirez at the University of Chicago. We are currently in the process of reporting the first examples of "bursting" behavior in human neurons. This is a breakthrough discovery since bursting neurons are felt to be key to the generation of seizures in several animal models. A team of neuroscientists is now pursuing this discovery from disciplines of genetics, organismal biology and pediatric neurology – to further refine the molecular basis of this activity.
Each of these activities reflects and even requires the collaborative efforts of neuroscientists, engineers, physicists, physiologists and physicians from the University of Chicago community, the surrounding Universities in Chicago, Argonne National Laboratories, and even scientists from Europe. We feel this type of interaction is a key strategy for attacking complex problems where the participation of multiple disciplines is likely to be imperative to making substantial progress.
It is our commitment to compassionate care and scientific discovery that has enabled us to form a multidisciplinary research team dedicated to the study of pediatric seizure activity. Our overreaching aim is to better understand epileptic seizure activity, with specific interest in pediatric epilepsy, from the cellular and sub-cellular level all the way to the patient’s bedside.