People making a difference - ‘Meteorologist of the mind’

  • Thursday, January 2, 2014

Disorders of the brain have plagued mankind since the beginning, with one of the most prevalent being epilepsy. In 500 BC, the era of Pythagoras, Alcmaeon of Croton first theorized that the brain was the center of intelligence and the senses. The first known book written on the topic was by Hippocrates in 400 BC in which he refuted that epilepsy was a divine curse and advanced the idea that it was a disease with natural causes. However, it wasn’t until 2,500 years later in the early 1900s that we realized the workings of the brain were electrical in nature, and not until 1929 that Hans Berger showed that brain wave activity could be recorded and mapped.

Since that time, epilepsy treatments have primarily used powerful anti-seizure drugs and sometimes invasive surgery in a mostly vain attempt to repress seizures. At their best, these approaches never cured epilepsy. They simply serve as a sort of symptom management. Amazingly, up until just twenty years ago there were laws on the books – right here in the USA - that prevented those with epilepsy from marrying, and even more incredibly forced sterilization was legal in numerous states clear up to 1990. But we stand at the dawn of a new era in our understanding of the brain and its various glitches that bedevil us.

Modern technology allows very specific non-invasive (no needles or cutting) mapping of the electromagnetic activity and networking among all parts of the brain. From this data patterns are emerging that clearly show the difference between normal and abnormal brain activity, as well as demonstrating the importance of understanding the connections throughout the brain and how they relate to healthy and unhealthy function. Researchers from all over the world are using this data to develop techniques to more effectively treat brain malfunction without resorting to invasive surgery or powerful drugs and incurring the consequences of the numerous side effects they bring. And one of the pioneers at the fore-front of this effort is our own Dr. Robert “Rusty” Turner, MD, MSCR.

The clinic

Dr. Turner has worked with the Medical University of South Carolina for 16 years, becoming a tenured associate professor of Neuroscience and Pediatrics and also serving as director of the Pediatric Epilepsy Program and as medical director of Clinical Neurophysiological Services. During this time, he has collaborated with other colleagues on the cutting edge of diagnosis and treatment throughout the United States, Europe, China, South Africa and Mexico. These past six months, he took a sabbatical from MUSC to visit these other researchers, and is currently in the process of opening a comprehensive, integrated clinic and research facility here in Charleston. You don’t have to spend much time with Turner to realize that he is genuinely a humble man, but just beneath the kind and gentle demeanor lies a burning passion to be of service to his fellow human beings.

“Through digital analysis techniques of electroencephalography (EEG and QEEG brain wave sensing systems) we have found that certain brain networks can get locked into abnormal patterns of electro-magnetic activity and basically hi-jack other cells, ultimately causing an electrical brain-storm of sorts that results in a seizure” says Turner. “However, techniques have developed over the past few decades that can help restore healthy balance between these neural networks. In essence, we are training the brain to restore healthy functioning, and then to continue to function properly.

“Increasingly, scientific, peer-reviewed journals, clinical research, and anecdotal data are showing either a complete elimination or dramatic improvement in symptoms in over 75 percent of patients with a wide variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders. Peer-reviewed literature is confirming that as the brain heals, the need for medications is often eliminated or greatly reduced. However, unlike physical training, this training of the brain may become long-lasting and permanent – once it is done, the positive benefits remain without further direct training. Imagine the difference this will make - just in the United States where over 2 million of our fellows suffer from this previously incurable disease. It is currently estimated that over 65 million people in the world experience seizures and epilepsy, and over a third suffer from seizures which are uncontrolled by medication, diet, or surgery.”

Epilepsy is but the beach-head of this exciting breakthrough. Non-invasive neuro-therapies are showing great promise in other neurological conditions such as traumatic brain injury, ADD/ADHD and stroke recovery as well. Says Turner: “The goal of our neurology practice is to serve patients with nervous system disorders, as well as their families, with a growing model that acknowledges physiological, psychological, and spiritual dimensions. There are three prongs to this effort. First, the clinical work that deals directly with the patient and their family focusing on both health and relational restoration. Second, the educational prong that mentors medical students and provides training to physicians and other allied health students and professionals. The third prong is research, which through clinical studies and collaboration with other researchers throughout the world will serve to improve these techniques.”

There are fewer than 10 BCIA-certified (Board Certification International Alliance) practitioners in South Carolina who provide training with neuro-feedback and biofeedback. Dr. Turner and his growing team will be the only BCIA-certified medical practice offering these techniques in the Low Country, and word is traveling quickly through the grapevine. The clinic, Network Neurology, isn’t slated to open until late January, but the pleas from desperate families pour in daily. (Practice updates will soon be posted at www.NetworkNeurology.com.)

How far will these techniques and this research go to alleviate human suffering on this planet? Well, this reporter is so convinced of its potential that I am dedicating the next three years of my life to raising funds to assist the effort.

David Emch is a Mount Pleasant photographer and author who is currently beginning a three year journey around the perimeter of the United States, writing articles and performing speaking engagements in order raise awareness and funds to drive this cure for epilepsy. The Moultrie News will be featuring an online article by Emch each week. You can follow his journey and contribute to this effort at CaptureAmerica.blogspot.com and www.CaptureAmericaJournal.blogspot.com.

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