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Nemours brings in new brain scanning technology to detect seizures

Nemours A.I. duPont Hospital for Children has a new tool to more closely examine children experiencing constant seizures.




Bear residents Aaron and Erica Matt remember very clearly the first time their daughter Olivia — then four months old — had a seizure.


“I was holding her at the end of the day and I started noticing her shoulders starting to twitch a little bit and I went to Erica and I was like ‘what’s going on here?’ and she started having an actual seizure,” Aaron Matt said.


Scared and concerned, they called 911. At the hospital, they were told Olivia’s seizure was probably related to a fever she had. 


She had a couple more clusters of seizures. Then, after 10 seizure-free months, Olivia had a longer one and doctors at A.I. Dupont decided to search for causes. Two months later, after medications failed to help, doctors started considering surgical options.


To guide their diagnosis, they used their newest tool — a Positron Emission Tomography with Magnetic Resonance scan, known as a PET/MR scan. The PET took pictures of chemical reactions of Olivia’s brain while the MR looked at her brain’s structure.


Dr. Harry Chugani is the Division Chief of Neurology for the Nemours Neuroscience Center. He said normally, those two scans are done separately. PET/MR saves time by doing them together in one machine.


In Olivia Matt’s case, it gave them a more accurate picture of what was going on in her brain.


“When we did the PET scan on her, we found out that the left frontal was involved, but also the left temporal. We didn’t know that before. When the surgery was done, we went after a portion of the left frontal as well as the left temporal lobe,” Chugani said.


In March, they performed surgery on Olivia, which involved opening her skull to put grid electrodes on the surface of of her brain. This recorded some of the seizures. A few days later, they removed the electrodes and part of the frontal lobe. 


Aaron and Erica Matt said Olivia, now 21-months-old, is doing well. 


“She’s had very rare seizures since then,” Erica Matt said.


“Rare and mild,” Aaron Matt said.


“Not like they were before the surgery,” Erica added.


“She would have at least two clusters a day and a cluster would be about 4 or 5 in a half hour, or more,” Aaron added.


Olivia is one of almost 40 patients the PET/MR center has scanned since opening in March, Chugani said.


Saving time:


 Before A.I Dupont brought in the PET/MR, they conducted both scans separately. 


Chugani said there was a problem with that: It required children to be sedated twice.


“When you have a child who gets an MRI scan, very often the child gets put to sleep, anesthetized, and same thing for the PET. But if you have a scanner that does both at the same time, you will do one sedation and you will get two sets of studies at the same time,” Chugani said.


It takes the PET/MR about 40 minutes to get a picture of the brain’s chemical pathways and functions.


Chugani said they’ve already scanned close to 40 patients from all over the country since opening the center in March.


When a child is brought into the center, they’re injected with a probe that has a tiny amount of radiation. Then, 30 minutes later, the child is brought into the scanning room, and is imaged with the PET/MR for the next 40 minutes, Chugani said.


The cost, and a plan to expand:


The center cost about $10 million to build. Its full title, the “Katzin Diagnostic & Research PET/MR Center” is named after Greenville residents Dan and Susan Katzin, who donated $4 million to bring it to the hospital.


“It’s tremendous technology that has the opportunity to really save lives and impact lives,” Susan said. “Our hope is that it will be the foundation for a huge neuroscience center that will have and include within that an autism center to help children specifically with autism, parents and families affected by autism, and we know it will have other applications.”


Ultimately, she said, they’d like to build a neuroscience center of excellence.


The Katzins know firsthand how a diagnosis can shake a family. They have a son who is autistic. Dan Katzin said as part of the larger vision of expanding the center, it has a state in being family-oriented. 


“It’s a community of families. Each one of the families that comes into this hospital has a tremendous problem in their daily life. That problem is how can they nourish this child. How can they express their love? How can they get the child to receive their love? How can they get the child to become part of our society?”


He continued, “When you can see the result of one child being able to graduate from one condition to hopefully a much better condition, the family does too. That’s our heart. That’s every family’s heart.”