Clinical Neurosciences Center

Surgical Epilepsy Program Names New Medical Directors

Program leaders to streamline care for patients with intractable epilepsy

Dec. 8, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY – In a move to improve care for individuals whose epilepsy may benefit from surgical treatment, Helen Barkan, MD, and Paul House, MD have been appointed Co-Medical Directors of the Surgical Epilepsy Program in the University of Utah Comprehensive Epilepsy Center. As co-medical directors, Drs. Barkan and House will work together to streamline the patient evaluation process while increasing access and reducing wait times for evaluation results.

“Epilepsy is a common condition, affecting as much as 1 percent of the population of the United States”, explained Dr. Barkan. “I do not think of it as a “disease” – it is a constellation of diseases, syndromes, and a genetic predisposition to seizures, in the same way some people are predisposed to asthmatic attacks or to allergic crises. It is a condition of recurrent seizures caused by many possible reasons. A single seizure is an episode of abnormal synchronized firing of neurons, in a small area of the brain, or across the entire cortex.  Any human can have seizures if stressed enough, but in people with epilepsy, the "threshold" conditions for these abnormal excitations are lowered. Therefore, the goal of treatment for epilepsy is to raise this threshold back to a point at which seizures no longer occur or are rare, and the side effects of treatment are minimal. Multiple treatment modalities exist for epilepsy – including surgeries of several varieties.”

“While most people with epilepsy achieve satisfactory control of their seizures using medication alone, there still exists a large number for whom medication does not achieve this goal”, added Dr. House. “Many of these people will benefit from a surgical procedure to improve control of their epilepsy and enhance the quality of their lives. With advances in surgical technique and diagnostic tools during the past two decades, we have seen a significant increase in our ability to identify people with epilepsy who might benefit substantially from surgical treatment, as well as in the ease and safety of carrying out the procedures. We can provide all surgical procedures for the treatment of epilepsy, and after careful evaluation determine which surgical option is best for each individual patient.”

“The screening and evaluation process to determine if a patient is a candidate for surgical treatment of their epilepsy requires an efficiently organized team”, said Stefan-M. Pulst, MD, dr med, Chair of the Department of Neurology. “Drs. House and Barkan will be leading this team in order to improve our processes, increase collaboration, and reduce the amount of time the evaluation takes. We feel this will greatly benefit patients with epilepsy throughout the intermountain region.”

“No two patients with epilepsy are identical, and each requires a careful evaluation includes specialists in neurology, neurosurgery, neuroradiology, and neuropsychology working together to determine the best treatment plan for each patient”, said William T Couldwell, MD, PhD, Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery. “Surgical treatment offers something to patients with epilepsy whose seizures cannot be controlled with medication – the chance for a life without seizures.”

“Dr. House is the most highly qualified neurosurgeon in the region in functional and stereotactic neurosurgery”, continued Pulst. “He trained at one of the world’s top centers and has completed more epilepsy surgeries than any other neurosurgeon in the region, with outstanding outcomes in terms of quality and patient safety. Dr. Barkan is a highly skilled epileptologist with advanced training in the treatment of patients with seizures. Together we are sure they will be successful in leading the program as it enters a new phase.”

Leaders at the University’s Clinical Neurosciences Center have ambitious goals for the program. “Increasing community outreach and education, both to patients and to physicians throughout the region is a priority”, continued Couldwell. “Physicians and patients should know that they can access the highest level of care right here in the region and that the process of evaluation will be efficient, safe, and cost-effective.”

“We know that there is a segment of the population with epilepsy who are unable to control their seizures through medication alone”, Barkan stated. “Our program offers them a team with the highest level of knowledge and technical skill, all of whom are focused on helping each patient as an individual who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”

For more information, contact:

Dennis Jolley, 801-585-7777 office, 801-824-7217 mobile, dennis.jolley@hsc.utah.edu

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