"The trick is making sure that the area you're taking out is, in fact, the bad area," said Dr. Shlomo Shinnar, director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Management Center at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "So we use a lot of techniques to try and define it."
Other less costly imaging techniques, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or electroencephalography (EEG) are more conventional, but the MEG scanner, some say, offers a novel approach that can help determine whether surgery is necessary in some patients.
"MRI only shows physical structure, but does not tell about the function of the brain tissue," said Dr. James Grisola, chief of neurology at Scripps-Mercy Hospital in San Diego, Calif. "MEG shows brain function, whether a particular brain area has too much electrical activity, which is why it is important for finding areas that cause seizures."
However, according to Dr. Orrin Devinsky, director of neurosurgery and psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, MEG is only useful for people where other imaging techniques are unable to pinpoint the brain tissues responsible for producing seizures. Most people would likely benefit today just with a simple EEG screening instead of a MEG screening, he said.
"There can be people who have epilepsy waves that are deep in the brain," said Devinsky. "That's when MEG is good."
ABC News Senior Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser said on Good Morning America that more insurance companies are likely to cover MEG scans in the future because of their pre-surgery precision.
"This scan will increase the likelihood that surgery will work," Besser said.
Today, there are only 30 MEG scanners available in medical centers across the country. While right now the most promising application for this technology is epilepsy, MEG scans are also being used in a variety of studies looking more closely into other conditions related to the brain including autism spectrum disorders, Alzheimer's and stroke.
Last month, researchers at the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center used MEG scans to detect unique biomarkers for people with post traumatic stress disorder. They scanned over 300 people, some who suffered from PTSD and some who did not. The MEG scans accurately identified the brain wave patterns in PTSD patients more than 90 percent of the time, according to the researchers.
"I think the sky is the limit with the applications of this technology," Besser said.