Epilepsy is entailed by unpredictability. There is no real way for patients to know when a seizure may occur.
Molecular biologist Marion Hogg and her colleagues have managed to make a breakthrough in this field. They identified molecules whose levels in the bloodstream vary before and after the seizure occurs. This discovery could lead to a possible way of detecting a seizure before it even happens, providing patients with enough time to take preventative measures. The study, published in July in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, might help researchers understand epilepsy and its causes better.
Plasma samples from the blood of epileptic patients showed that certain fragments of transfer RNA (tRNA)—a molecule involved in translating RNA into proteins—appear to spike hours before a seizure and return to their normal level afterwards.
Mark Cook, a neurologist at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, says that the tRNA fluctuations could reflect the rhythms of biological clocks. “In adults with chronic epilepsy, we see cycles running over 7, 28, 40 days,” Cook says. “These patterns control brain excitability, making you more or less liable to seizures.”
Cook’s group was able to predict seizures before this too, but that required invasive brain surgery. Right now researchers are working on a device that can predict the onset of a seizure through a simple pinprick test at home, not different from one done by a glucose monitor.
Being aware that a seizure is likely to occur, patients might make a conscious effort to be safe. “If you had an indication, perhaps you would not go into work, or drive, or go swimming,” Hogg says. It would also lead to the development of new drugs that work for a more specific time frame rather than ones which are to be taken as a daily dose.
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