AUSTRALIAN researchers are pioneering a technique to accurately pinpoint the area of the brain that causes seizures, which could allow more people with epilepsy to undergo life-changing neurosurgery.

Chemists and nuclear medicine experts in Sydney and Melbourne have developed a radioactive drug called 18FMZ that targets the brain receptors associated with epilepsy and helps surgeons identify which part of the brain to remove.

The clinical director of the Co-operative Research Centre for Biomedical Imaging Development, Rob Ware, said the breakthrough could help patients with poorly controlled epilepsy, who often have significant medical, psychological and economic difficulties.

"Although neurological surgery can be a very effective treatment for these medication-resistant patients, surgery can only be applied in a small proportion because of problems localising the source of the seizure," he said. "The radiopharmaceutical 18FMZ may help to solve this issue."

Following promising results from laboratory studies, 20 people with epilepsy and 20 people without the disease will undergo a positron emission tomography (PET) scan using 18FMZ at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne.

A further 40 people with epilepsy will also be scanned using the current nuclear medicine imaging agent used in PET scans, known as FDG.

Dr Ware said PET scans using FDG can help identify the seizure focus in some patients, but it provides far less detail and often shows a relatively wide area of abnormality, all of which does not need to be surgically removed for effective seizure control.

The head of radiopharmaceutical research at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation in Sydney, Dr Ron Weiner, said the technique had been tried in Europe for PET scanning using radioactive carbon (11C-FMZ) as the tracer. However its very short radioactive half-life of 20 minutes meant scanning was limited to the few research centres that had both sophisticated radiotracer synthetic capabilities together with an onsite cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator that makes isotopes suitable for PET imaging.

ANSTO chemists had achieved a half-life of 109 minutes through molecular manipulation, meaning it could be transported to other hospitals and research centres and reach a much large number of patients.