Brain powered: Neuroscience research at Penn Medicine’s Pavilion

Advanced treatment for epilepsy can offer a unique look at the human mind from inside. By bringing clinical care and neuroscience research closer together, Penn Medicine’s newest inpatient facility will help to forge fundamental neuroscience discoveries and new neurotechnologies faster and better than ever.

Five people wearing masks, hard hats and safety vests explore a new unit in the Penn Medicine Pavilion.
Neurologists and neurosurgeons Michael Beauchamp, Daniel Yoshor, Brian Litt, and Kathryn Davis tour the future home of the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit and Human Neurophysiology Research Lab in the Pavilion, with Stephen Greulich, associate vice president for large capital projects (center). (Image: Penn Medicine News)

Luke Debevec had tried medication after medication, but nothing had been able to control his epilepsy. Now, doctors were examining activity from multiple electrodes nestled deep into his brain to show where Debevec’s seizures were coming from in order to plan for surgery that might cure him. He had also volunteered to let Penn scientists use his wired-up brain as a rare and precious experimental resource.

Neuroscience researchers at Penn depend on patients like Debevec, whose treatment regimen offers a unique opportunity to look at the human mind from the inside.

“Typically patients are just fascinated by being part of the scientific process and being able to contribute to our knowledge of how the brain works,” says Kathryn Davis, an assistant professor of neurology at the Perelman School of Medicine and the medical director of the Epilepsy Surgical Program.

“These patients are changing the lives of people in the future by donating their data,” says Timothy H. Lucas, an associate professor of neurosurgery and co-director of the Translational Neuromodulation Lab. “And there’s no other way to get that data.”

The studies these patients make possible can sound like science fiction, from defining the fundamentals of consciousness to restoring vision through signals sent directly to the brain.

Soon, research facilities at Penn Medicine’s new Pavilion will bring this collaboration between research and patient care closer together—with a goal to turbocharge these discoveries with new technologies.

The new Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (EMU) and Human Neurophysiology Research Laboratory will be comprised of 12 patient rooms—doubling the capacity of the current EMU that Davis directs at HUP today—alongside a state-of-the art clinical control room to monitor them. But it will also boast a dedicated lab space for investigators working with patients, with its own suite of technology dedicated to neuromonitoring.

This story is by S.I. Rosenbaum. Read more at Penn Medicine News.