Elaine C. Wirrell, M.D., studies pediatric epilepsy with a focus on early diagnosis, treatment, causes and outcomes. She is co-founder of the Pediatric Epilepsy Research Consortium, a multicenter U.S. group of clinicians that focuses on epilepsy in children.
- West syndrome. Dr. Wirrell is studying the causes and outcomes of infantile spasms (West syndrome) to determine the most effective therapy for this devastating condition. These seizures usually begin in the first year of life and are often medically intractable. Many infants are left with significant developmental delays, behavioral problems and autism.
- Early-onset epilepsy. The goal of this research is to help predict treatment response and outcome based on initial presentation and cause of epilepsy, and investigate the role of genetics in this population. Epilepsy that begins in the first three years of life is associated with a higher risk of medical intractability and developmental delay.
- Dravet syndrome. Dr. Wirrell is working with pediatric epilepsy experts across North America to develop criteria for Dravet syndrome that would allow for earlier diagnosis and better treatments to improve long-term outcomes. Dravet syndrome is a rare but severe epilepsy syndrome that begins in the first 18 months of life with recurrent and prolonged seizures often triggered by fever. It is poorly responsive to most treatments and can be worsened by specific anti-epileptic drugs.
- Population-based study of pediatric epilepsy in Olmsted County. Dr. Wirrell has established a registry of all children diagnosed with new-onset epilepsy over a 30-year period in Olmsted County, Minn., with assistance from the Rochester Epidemiology Project. This registry allows a greater understanding about many aspects of pediatric epilepsy, including the likelihood of remission over time, predictors of ongoing seizures and mortality rates.
- Management of intractable epilepsy. Dr. Wirrell is interested in identifying the best treatments for children with medically intractable epilepsy. Her research focuses on the role and timing of epilepsy surgery in various epilepsy syndromes and etiologies in pediatric epilepsy, as well as specific medications that may have unique efficacy in a subset of children with a specific type of epilepsy.
Significance to patient care
Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders to affect children. While many children respond well to their first or second medication, approximately one quarter have seizures that remain poorly controlled despite trials of numerous anti-epileptic drugs. Uncontrolled seizures place children at risk of learning and developmental problems, mood and anxiety disorders, injury, and even sudden death. Additionally, children with well-controlled epilepsy have poorer educational and social outcomes than do those without the disorder.
Dr. Wirrell and her research team are interested in finding the most effective therapy for epilepsy as early as possible to achieve more-complete seizure control and minimize the impact on learning, social outcome and injury.