When the Epilepsy Researcher Becomes the PatientJun 27, 2014
A scientistâ€™s thirty-year career researching epilepsy has taken on new meaning since he started having seizures four years ago. H. Steve White, Ph.D., Director of the Anticonvulsant Drug Development Program at the University of Utah, analyzes his condition with the insights of an expert and describes how his perspective on his work has changed.
Interviewer: Dr. Steve White, director of the anticonvulsant drug development program at the University of Utah, has been researching epilepsy for 30 years, but his work took on new meaning when the disease became personal.
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Interviewer: Dr. White, I understand that you've been personally affected by epilepsy.
Dr. Steve White: The work that I do became a little bit personal about four years ago when I experienced what is called a generalized tonic-clonic seizure. I had had a headache all day. That's really the thing that I remember most about that day, a severe headache that I thought was a migraine that I just couldn't get under control. I laid down on the couch and fell asleep and had this seizure within about three minutes. My wife was scared. She had no idea what was happening. She actually thought maybe I was having a stroke. I regained consciousness in the emergency department of a community hospital close to our home. That was when I first became aware or learned that I'd had a seizure.
Interviewer: Do you know the cause of your seizures now?
Dr. Steve White: This falls under that rubric of acquired epilepsy. In fact, it was the result of a tumor that pushed away normal brain tissue to make room for its growth. That's probably coupled with the stress. I mean stress certainly contributed to the seizure along with the sleep deprivation from an international trip. It led to a lowered seizure threshold, and the planets aligned and I happened to have that seizure. I probably have had that tumor, according to the neurosurgeon, for many decades, but the circumstances were such that I had the seizure that night for whatever reason. The surgical resection of that tumor actually led to some additional damage that may have contributed to the development of a seizure focus that has led to the simple partial seizures or focus seizures.
Interviewer: That's interesting, because I think most people when they think of epilepsy think of the convulsions. They may not realize that there are these other forms.
Dr. Steve White: That's absolutely true. There are many different forms of epilepsy from the very simple partial seizures in which consciousness is not impaired, to the complex partial seizures in which there's no convulsions but consciousness is impaired, to the generalized seizures such as generalized tonic-clonic or what used to be called grand mal epilepsy. We have over the years been very fortunate to see a number of new drugs come to the market for the treatment of epilepsy as a direct result of the day to day activity that we have within the anticonvulsant drug development program. The irony of it all is that I'm taking a drug whose initial anti-seizure activity was identified in the anticonvulsant drug development program.
Interviewer: How's your perception changed since you started getting seizures?
Dr. Steve White: I've learned to understand some of the fears and anxiety that a patient with epilepsy undergoes every day. I probably know too much about the process of underlying epilepsy and the processes underlying the progression of epilepsy to not think about it and not be worried about it, but that drives me even more than before to find better therapies and safer therapies for the patient population that's not so lucky. I think that's the important message for anybody doing epilepsy research. Ultimately, it's the patient that we all need to keep center of our focus. Through our work hopefully we're fortunate enough to see that patient's life improved and perhaps even the prevention of epilepsy at some point in the future.
Announcer: Interesting, informative, and all in the name of better healthy, this is The Scope Health Sciences Radio.