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Irish researchers make discovery which may lead to epilepsy 'warning system'

The discovery was made by researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

Dr Marion Hogg, Honorary Lecturer at RCSI and FutureNeuro investigator, who is the lead author of the study
Dr Marion Hogg, Honorary Lecturer at RCSI and FutureNeuro investigator, who is the lead author of the study
Image: Maxwell Photography

RESEARCHERS IN IRELAND have found a signal that appears in the blood before an epileptic seizure happens. 

This discovery may lead to the development of an early warning system, which would enable people with epilepsy to know when they are at risk of having a seizure. 

Researchers at FutureNeuro, hosted at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) led the study, which is published in the current edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI).

The researchers have discovered molecules in the blood that are higher in people with epilepsy before a seizure happens. 

These molecules are fragments of transfer RNAs (tRNAs), a chemical closely related to DNA that performs an important role in building proteins within the cell.

When cells are stressed, tRNAs are cut into fragments. Higher levels of the fragments in the blood could reflect that brain cells are under stress in the build up to a seizure event.

Using blood samples from people with epilepsy at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin and in a similar specialist centre in Marburg, Germany, the group 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,” said Dr Marion Hogg, the study’s lead author said.

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.

Around 40,000 people in Ireland have epilepsy and one third of those don’t respond to current treatments, meaning they continue experiencing seizures. 

“New technologies to remove the unpredictability of uncontrolled seizures for people with epilepsy are a very real possibility,” said Professor David Henshall, a co-author on the paper, said.

“Building on this research we in FutureNeuro hope to develop a test prototype, similar to a blood sugar monitor that can potentially predict when a seizure might occur.”

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