Innovative Epilepsy Study Utilizes Stem Cells in a Search for Seizure Treatments
Scientists and cell biology experts at the University of Michigan’s Medical School have taken a stem-cell-based approach to studying the origins and possible treatment routes for epilepsy. Converting skin cells from current epilepsy patients into stem cells, the scientists could turn those stem cells into neurons. Utilizing these brain nerve cells, the team was then able to test epilepsy in a whole new way.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing parts of the study was the scientists’ newfound ability to measure signals being shared between cells via sodium channels. When it came to the cells of children with Dravet Syndrome (a rare and severe epileptic condition) researchers were surprised to find unusually high levels of sodium current activity. These hyperactive and spontaneous bursts of activity within the neuron’s sodium currents could explain the origins of seizures.
A major benefit of the techniques used in the study is the ability to utilize stem cells that resemble a patient’s own individual brain cells, without the need for an invasive, painful, and potentially dangerous brain biopsy. Patient-specific neurons give scientists the ability to model their seizure disorder research after specific patients. This will make screening future medications and studying epilepsy and seizure disorders not only easier, but more effective as well.