Irish research may help predict seizures

Scientists working on early warning system
  • Deborah Condon

Irish scientists have made a discovery that could lead to the development of an early warning system for people with epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a neurological condition, which is characterised by a tendency to have repeated seizures. Up to 40,000 people in Ireland are affected. This discovery would enable those affected to know when they are at risk of having a seizure.

The research was carried out by scientists at FutureNeuro, a leading neurological research centre based in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI). They have discovered molecules in the blood that are higher in people before a seizure happens.

The molecules are fragments of transfer RNAs (tRNAs), a chemical that is closely related to DNA. It has an important role in building proteins within the cell. When cells are stressed, tRNAs are cut into fragments. The researchers believe that higher levels of these fragments in the blood could reflect that brain cells are under stress in the build up to a seizure event.

They used blood samples from people with epilepsy at the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, and in a similar specialist centre in Marburg, Germany. They found that fragment levels of three tRNAs ‘spike' in the blood many hours before a seizure.

"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. 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," explained the study's lead author, Dr Marion Hogg, a FutureNeuro investigator and honorary lecturer at the RCSI.

Around one-third of people with epilepsy in Ireland do not respond to current treatments, so they continue to experience seizures. This can have a major impact on their quality of life.

"New technologies to remove the unpredictability of uncontrolled seizures for people with epilepsy are a very real possibility," commented the study's co-author, Prof David Henshall, director of FutureNeuro and professor of molecular physiology and neuroscience at the RCSI.

He said that building on this research, the team in FutureNeuro hopes to develop ‘a test prototype, similar to a blood sugar monitor that can potentially predict when a seizure might occur'.

A video of the researchers explaining their work can be viewed here.

*Pictured is the study's lead author, Dr Marion Hogg


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