‘Significant’ advance in the understanding of epilepsy made by Trinity researchers

The condition effects approximately 1% of the population and 50 million people worldwide

Scientists at Trinity College Dublin have announced a ‘significant’ advance in the understanding of epilepsy, identifying a potential method of preventing damaging seizure activity.

While the brain accounts for just 2 per cent of human body mass, it expends almost 20 per cent of the body’s daily energy production. To maintain this high energy demand, brain cells are nourished by an intricate network of capillaries that form the so-called blood-brain barrier (BBB). Such is the extent of these capillaries it is estimated that every brain cell is essentially nourished by its own capillary.

Fundamentally, it is disruption to the integrity of these capillaries and the BBB that the Trinity scientists believe is a key driver of seizure activity in humans. Promisingly though, their new research shows that restoring that integrity can prevent seizures.

“Our findings suggest that designing medicines aimed at stabilising the integrity of blood vessels in the brain may hold promise in treating patients who are currently non-responsive to anti-seizure medications,” said Dr Matthew CampbellAssociate Professor in Trinity’s School of Genetics and Microbiology.

“This work represents one of the first conclusive studies that pinpoints a key feature of seizures that has to date not been studied in great molecular detail.”

Importantly, the work was translational in nature, and included both basic and clinical research arms involving patients diagnosed with epilepsy. Using similar techniques in humans and in pre-clinical models, the scientists were able to show that BBB disruption was a key driver of seizure activity. Added to this, they were able to show that restoring BBB integrity could prevent seizures – and it is this finding that holds real potential in moving the discoveries closer to a real and meaningful therapy.

A multidisciplinary team of geneticists, neurologists, neuropathologists, and neurosurgeons from Trinity, RCSI, St James’s Hospital, Beaumont Hospital and Uppsala University were involved in the study. Additionally, the work formed part of a major collaboration between Trinity and the Science Foundation Ireland ( SFI)-funded centre, FutureNeuro.

Commenting on the clinical significance of the findings, Prof. Colin DohertyProfessor of Epilepsy in Trinity, said: “This work was the culmination of many years of collaboration between both clinical and basic research groups. It simply wouldn’t have been possible without the commitment of patients and their interest in getting involved in research studies aimed at better understanding their condition.”

The research was supported by the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) FutureNeuro Centre, the Irish Research Council (IRC), the St James’s Hospital Foundation and the Ellen Mayston Bates bequest in the Trinity Foundation.

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