Epilepsy, a condition in which a person has unprovoked seizures, affects 60 million people worldwide. Two KU music professors have collaborated on a study they hope will help better educate the public about this neurological disease.
Dr. Deron McGee and Dr. Kip Haaheim, music theory/music composition professors at the University of Kansas, have worked closely with Dr. Ivan Osorio ,Professor of Neurology at KU Medical Center; Professor of Math at the Harvey Mudd College, and a member of the Ralph Adams Institute," on the creation of a DVD entitled, "It is Epilepsy - The Challenges and Promises of Automated Seizure Control." This DVD captures the study done by Dr. Osorio and his colleagues on the development of a non-pharmacological implantation treatment for predicting and preventing epileptic seizures.
In the DVD Osorio wanted to illustrate the dynamics of a seizure and felt symphonic music would be the most accessible way viewers could visualize, or in a way "experience," a seizure. McGee and Haaheim were recruited to help choose a symphonic piece that best mirrored the normal function of a brain. Mozart's Symphony #40 in G minor was chosen due to it being recognized by a large and diverse audience, its moderate and serious tempo and complex nature. Haaheim and McGee then created a modified version of this piece to show how disruptive a seizure is to the brain's normal functions. The modified version, performed on the DVD by the KU Symphony Orchestra, depicts how the brain breaks down during the various stages of an epileptic seizure.
"I am a patient of Dr. Osorio, who is fascinated with symphonic music," said Dr. McGee. "He believes there is a close parallel between symphonic music and the operation of the brain, so he contacted me and asked if I would participate in an interdisciplinary team of scholars working on this project." McGee added, "Music provides a powerful means for communicating complex ideas and addressing the emotional distress involved when having a seizure to a broader audience, which is why we were asked to write this 'musical metaphor' for a seizure."
The DVD was released in May is being sent around to regional and national film festivals, where it has picked up numerous awards. It is available through the Alliance for Epilepsy Research website at epilepsyresearch.org.
For more information on Dr. Haaheim and Dr. McGee's participation in this study, please contact the KU School of Music at 785-864-3436, www.music.ku.edu.