Scientists examine new potential epilepsy treatment

By Ryan Maass  |  Sept. 28, 2016 at 10:17 AM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 (UPI) -- Increasing the concentration of certain fats in the brain may be able to help control epilepsy, one of the world's deadliest neurological disorders, according to research groups led by Professor Patrik Verstreken and Professor Wim Versées.

Over 22 million people worldwide have a form of epilepsy, a disease characterized by sudden and violent seizures that can last anywhere from minutes to hours at a time. According to Professor Versées from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, these disruptive episodes can be controlled by increasing particular fats in the brain.

The research was conducted using fruit flies and an experimental technique that allows scientists to observe 3D models of microscopic structures. Prior to his endeavor in developing a potential new treatment for epilepsy, Professor Verstreken already observed that a protein code-named "Skywalker" plays a paramount role in maintaining communication between brain cells in fruit flies. In humans, a similar protein identified as "TBC1D24" serves the same purpose.

"Genetic mutations of the protein TBC1D24 cause a deviation known as the DOOR syndrome," the Belgian researcher explained. "Alongside deafness, deformed nails, brittle bones and mental retardation, this serious genetic disorder is characterized by neurodegeneration, movement disorders and epilepsy."

Versées added this impaired connection was found in over 70 percent of patients with a TBC1D24 mutation. Once the concentration of needed brain fats were increased, seizures in the sick fruit flies were suppressed entirely. Verstreken is confident the same can be done for human patients with epilepsy.

"Our work shows that increasing specific brain fats at the synapses of patients with a TBC1D24 mutation is a possible strategy for preventing epileptic seizures," he said. "And although our work focuses on people with TBC1D24 mutations, we think that our findings could be relevant to various forms of epilepsy."

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