New UCC research into seizures could "transform" lives of people with epilepsy

A study, led by Dr Cian McCafferty at University College Cork and Dr Hal Blumenfeld at Yale University, has found a particular pattern of brain activity that occurs before a seizure happens.
New UCC research into seizures could "transform" lives of people with epilepsy

Dr Cian McCafferty. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

New research led by UCC could help predict seizures before they happen, and “transform” the lives of people with epilepsy.

A study, led by Dr Cian McCafferty at University College Cork and Dr Hal Blumenfeld at Yale University, has found a particular pattern of brain activity that occurs before a seizure happens.

It was previously thought that all neurons in a brain area had similar activity patterns during a seizure, giving no obvious target for therapeutic interventions.

However, this new study has found that neurons consistently fall into one of four functional groups during absence seizures, suggesting they are playing different roles in the initiation and persistence of seizures.

Dr Cian McCafferty, study lead and Lecturer in the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience UCC, said that they found some neurons might be more important than others in making a seizure happen, and that gradual changes in electrical activity in the brain start up to a minute before the seizure.

Published in Nature Communications, the world's leading multidisciplinary science journal, and funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders & Stroke (NINDS), the UCC led study could lead to the development of an early warning technology to detect and predict seizures.

Epilepsy is a chronic noncommunicable disease of the brain that affects around 40,000 people in Ireland and 50 million people worldwide.

“For people with epilepsy, not knowing when their next seizure will occur is cited as one of the most difficult parts of living with the disease. We hope that our research will be a significant step towards the development of an early warning system so we can ensure people’s safety or even avert the seizure before it happens,” Dr McCafferty said.

Professor John Cryan, Vice President for Research & Innovation UCC, congratulated Dr McCafferty and his colleagues on their “impactful and translationally relevant study”.

“[It] offers promising results for the development of future therapeutic strategies for epilepsy treatment, which could transform the lives of people living with the neurological disorder and their families,” he said.

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