Epileptic Seizures Can Be Preventet Using Gene Therapy
Epilepsy is a lifelong and debilitating disease which is characterized by uncontrollable, recurrent and spontaneous seizures. It is a disease with potential complex consequences (economic, social, psychological) that affect both the patient and its family, because people with this disease can not have a independently living or can not holding jobs, especially if they do not respond to seizure medication.
Researchers from the University of Florida discovered that increasing the production of a hormone in the brain could prevent the onset of epileptic seizures. They used epileptic lab rats that received gene therapy, aimed to stimulate the production of somatostatin, a brain hormone that can stop seizures, that naturally exists in the brain. This study was published in the journal Neuroscience Letters.
Scientists observed that in people with epilepsy, the levels of somatostatin hormone have a tendency to decrease, as same as in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Somatostain, a neuropeptide that belongs to a larger group of protein-like molecules which are found naturally in the brain, it is present in normal concentrations in people with epilepsy, but it has a tendency to decrease during seizures.
To test whether by increasing the levels of this hormone they could prevent seizures, the scientists injected a gene that regulates the somatostatin expression. The gene was transported through the body by a harmless virus. After increasing the levels of somatostatin, researchers observed that the seizures became weaker and shorter and non of the subject that received gene therapy presented seizures with a higher intensity than before. No side effects was observed after the administration of this therapy, better yet the subjects presented a better capacity to learn and to concentrate, after the administration of this gene therapy.
Being able to restore somatostatin up to normal levels allows the brain to heal itself and that is the idea here. We're putting something back in that is normally there and allowing the brain to pick it up as part of its normal machinery. We're not putting in a drug., the leader of the study said.
Other studies demonstrated that somatostain may have a important role in brain aging and in others neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Because it is a neuromodulator, somatostain can regulates the behavior of nerve cells and also can alter this behavior.
In this research, scientists focused especially on temporal lobe epilepsy, which represents the most frequent form of epilepsy. In this type of disease medication are useful in seizures control, but about 30 percent of patients do not respond to the medication therapy. For this reason, researchers believe that this new gene therapy can represent a more effective treatment that can be used for a large population of adults and children who do not respond to medication therapy.
This study represents only the first step in the long road of epilepsy treatment and they need additional research before this therapy could be tested on humans. The scientists are focusing on the side effects of the treatment and on a proper way of administration, directly into the brain or less invasive intravenously.