Can Light Therapy Really Be Used To Treat Epilepsy?

Light Therapy and Epilepsy In general epilepsy is often treated with epilepsy medicines aimed to reduce seizures or to stop them entirely. In fact up to 70% of people in the UK find that they can be seizure free with the right treatment.

However, for the remaining 30% of individuals whose epilepsy cannot be controlled with medication it is essential to source alternative means of treatment. This may be in the form of a ketogenic diet, vagus nerve stimulation or brain surgery. Additionally recent waves of research claim that light therapy could one day soon be used to treat seizures in epilepsy.

Did You Know?

Marked by recurrent episodes of seizures, sensory disturbances, or loss of consciousness epilepsy is a neurological condition which affects the brain. In fact there are more than 500,000 people in the UK with epilepsy which equates to roughly one in every 100 people.

Electrical activity constantly occurs in the brain, however a seizure takes place when there is a sudden burst of intense electrical activity. As a result there is a temporary disruption to the way that the brain normally works causing messages to become mixed up. What happens to you during a seizure will depend entirely on where in the brain epileptic activity began and how widely and quickly it spreads.

Optogenetics Explained

Optogenetics is an emerging scientific field which aims to help researchers with new tools to further understand the brain in both health and disease. Examining various populations of living cells scientists use light to control events taking place in these areas. They are then able to examine the characteristics of normal and abnormal brain function as well as exploring novel ways to treat certain neurological disorders.

But how do they do this? The process used involves inserting genes into specific groups of brain cells or neurons within a particular region of interest. Scientists inject these neurons with a virus that contains a gene for a light sensitive protein found in jellyfish which cause the neurons to fire in response to light. Producing a light sensitive protein, which either switches the cells on or off in response to light, scientists are able to scrutinise how cell types contribute to the function of neural circuits.

Initial Research

Currently in the research period, Esther Krook-Magnuson, a neuroscientist, has led initial research where techniques have allowed scientists to stimulate or suppress neural activity in specific brain areas.

During this research period scientists have optogenetically modified neurons in mice who experience seizures by activating cells in the cerebellum, an area at the lower rear of the brain that is involved in controlling body movement. They found that firing these cells during seizures promptly caused them to stop, returning the uncontrolled electrical activity back to normal and seizures stop in response.

Continuing a second branch of experimentation scientists used light to stimulate part of the hippocampus, a seahorse shaped brain area known to be involved in memory and spatial navigation. It is here that epileptic seizures often take place due to a group of cells known as granule cells. Using light to block the activity in these cells the seizures were again shown to stop. However, when using light to activate the same cells it was found to make seizures much worse. The scientists were even able to induce seizures in non-epileptic mice suggesting that these cells may be another good target for controlling seizures using optogenetic methods.

Can Light Therapy Also Have an Effect on Epilepsy Induced Depression

Already an established medical treatment for seasonal affective disorder, bright light therapy has also shown to suppress the body?s production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and wake cycles. More detailed research has also shown to reduce the levels of depression and anxiety in patients with epilepsy, particularly in patients with focal epilepsy.

It is often the case that people who have epilepsy will experience symptoms such as depression or anxiety. In fact previous research suggests that as many as half of those with poorly controlled epilepsy will experience feelings of severe sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness. This field of study suggests that this is likely due to a psychological reaction of having epilepsy, the effects of anti-epileptic medication, the original cause of epilepsy (head injury or stroke) or epilepsy itself. Unfortunately these unwanted consequences have a significant impact on an individual?s quality of life.

Scientists at University College of London?s Institute of Neurology have discovered that some patients can be helped by bright light therapy, which is already commonly used to treat seasonal affective disorder and non-seasonal depression. The study saw 101 adults receive 12 weeks of daily light therapy with half of patients using a high intensity light box and the other half using a low intensity device. The researchers found that among 58 participant of those using either the low or high intensity boxes typically had a significant reduction in anxiety and depression but no difference between high and low intensity treatment.

More Help and Information

The findings from both sets of research suggest that bright light therapy could be hugely beneficial to those who have epilepsy. Whilst relieving the effects and symptoms of anxiety and depression is more widely practiced, light therapy to stop seizures certainly shows promise.

Whether you are considering light therapy for helping with the effects of epilepsy or not you may also be in need of assistive technology to ensure the safe keeping of yourself or individual your care for. Our Ep-it Alarms have been designed to detect signs of an oncoming seizure and in doing so providing you with peace of mind should a seizure occur. For more information and help call our friendly and experienced team on 0845 217 9552 or 01530 231215