JUN 10, 2019 05:18 PM PDT

Finding a Way to Predict Epileptic Seizures

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Epilepsy is a general term that refers to abnormal brain activity that causes seizures. Anyone can get the disease, and in about half of the cases, there is an identifiable cause such as head trauma, a developmental disorder or infectious illness. Around 3.4 million people in the United States suffer from epilepsy, which can seriously disrupt a person’s quality of life especially because the seizures are so unpredictable. While they may be incredibly inconvenient, they can also occur at dangerous times, such as while a person is driving. Most of the time, people with epilepsy don’t know when they are about to have a seizure.

New research from scientists at FutureNeuro, the SFI Research Centre for Chronic and Rare Neurological Diseases hosted at RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) may help change that. They identified a pattern of molecules that can be detected in the blood before the occurrence of a seizure. These molecules might offer clinicians and patients a way to detect the onset of seizures. Their findings have been reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI).

"People with epilepsy often report that one of the most difficult aspects of living with the disease is never knowing when a seizure will occur," said the lead author of the report Dr. Marion Hogg, FutureNeuro investigator, Honorary Lecturer at RCSI. "The results of this study are very promising. We hope that our tRNA research will be a key first step toward developing an early warning system."

Transfer RNA fragments, which are molecules that help cells to construct proteins from the instructions in DNA, get cut up when cells are stressed. The researchers found that the levels of certain tRNA fragments in the blood are a way to detect stress in brain cells, which happens before a seizure occurs.

Dr. Marion Hogg, Honorary Lecturer at RCSI and FutureNeuro investigator, found a pattern of molecules that appear in the blood before a seizure happens, which may lead to the development of an early warning system for those with epilepsy. / Credit: Maxwell Photography

By using epilepsy patient blood samples, the scientists confirmed that the amounts of three tRNA fragments in the blood spike many hours before a seizure happens.

"New technologies to remove the unpredictability of uncontrolled seizures for people with epilepsy are a very real possibility," said study co-author and Professor David Henshall, Director of FutureNeuro and Professor of Molecular Physiology and Neuroscience at RCSI. "Building on this research we in FutureNeuro hope to develop a test prototype, similar to a blood sugar monitor that can potentially predict when a seizure might occur."


Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via RCSI, Centers for Disease Control and PreventionJCI

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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