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UC Researcher/APA Fellow Discusses His Life’s Work at National Convention

Bruce Schefft, a UC professor of psychology and neurology, shares UC’s breakthroughs in treating patients with epilepsy – breakthroughs that are gaining national prominence.

Date: 8/16/2010
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Melanie K. Schefft
Bruce K. Schefft, a University of Cincinnati professor of psychology and neurology, shared pioneering discoveries of UC researchers at the 118th annual convention of the American Psychological Association (APA) in San Diego, Calif. Schefft is an APA Fellow, an honor for distinguished researchers in his field. His address at the convention, “Neuropsychological Contributions to Epilepsy Patient Care,” took place on Aug. 12.
Bruce K. Schefft
Bruce K. Schefft

Schefft holds a dual UC appointment as professor in the Department of Psychology in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), as well as professor of neurology in the College of Medicine at the UC Neuroscience Institute – a leading treatment, research and teaching center for neurological conditions.

Schefft’s work – along with the work of his colleagues at the Epilepsy Center of the UC Neuroscience Institute – has resulted in its designation as a Center of Excellence by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers, with care spanning evaluation, medical and surgical treatment and quality of life care for epilepsy patients.

Neuropsychology is the study of the relationship between the brain and behavior, and Schefft says his work at the Epilepsy Center involves being a “human MRI” as he works with physicians to pinpoint the source of epileptic seizures that are also studied with video/EEG, which traces continuous electrical activity in the brain, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging that makes a scan of the brain. For some patients, the seizure activity is hard to pinpoint with EEG and MRI.

“With neuropsychological diagnostic localization, a specific battery of tests is used to determine the portion of the brain where the seizures originate, and our success rate in accurate diagnostic classification ranges from 80-to-90 percent,” Schefft explains. “At UC, we’re the first to show scientifically respectable and clinically useful diagnostic accuracy, using neuropsychological methods in epilepsy,” Schefft says. He says the breakthrough research has been getting some attention from his colleagues at APA and may help in revising policy guidelines for the role of neuropsychological methods in epilepsy patient care.

“Most comprehensive epilepsy centers like ours have not used neuropsychological testing to the extent that we have to localize seizures,” adds Michael Privitera, MD, director of the UC Epilepsy Center. “The research published by Dr. Schefft and our group has shown how valuable this testing is in the optimal care of people with epilepsy,” Privitera said.

But treatment of the condition goes beyond treatment for the seizure, and this is where Schefft’s expertise applies as well. “Patients can have memory and other cognitive problems. They can’t drive, and their education may have been delayed due to epilepsy, so there are still major obstacles to overcome after surgery. I work with the patients to help reintegrate them back into society, and the intellectual challenge and this ability to make a tiny difference in their lives is so rewarding,” Schefft says. He says the UC Epilepsy Center performs approximately 30 surgeries a year and serves several thousand patients, including a large number of children served by the center’s pediatric program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Schefft’s personal transformation into a nationally recognized researcher took a rather unusual pathway as well, which he shared in his remarks at the APA. He started out as a professional drummer with the touring version of the band, “The Ohio Express,” in the early 1970s. The band is best known for the hit, “Yummy Yummy Yummy (I’ve Got Love in My Tummy).”

The gigs paid well, Schefft says, but added that it became tiring to tour around the country in a van, constantly bumping his head on the ceiling. It was, after all, an era that was pioneering rock-n-roll, so there were no posh tour busses like the ones that accommodate today’s popular musicians.

His interest in psychology led him back to school, where he earned an MS and a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. An internship and post-doctoral internship at Stanford University and post-doctoral training in neurology at the University if Wisconsin Medical School fueled his passion in the field of neuropsychology.

Schefft adds that he never gave up the drums, though. He still plays professionally as a jazz drummer.

The Epilepsy Center of the UC Neuroscience Institute is a comprehensive center that provides advanced treatment for all people with epilepsy and is world recognized for its research in new treatments for epilepsy, brain imaging and methods to improve seizure localization for surgery.

The UC Department of Psychology is recognized nationally for the quality of its undergraduate major and the excellence of its graduate training programs in clinical and experimental psychology. Doctoral graduates are well qualified for a wide range of positions in academe, medical centers, industry and private practice.

The APA describes itself as the world’s largest association of psychologists, dedicated to advancing the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve lives. The organization was founded in 1892.