Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system in which abnormal brain activity leads to seizures, loss of awareness, and periods of abnormal behavior. Symptoms may vary significantly; for instance, some people may stare blankly while others may twitch their limbs. Some people may require lifelong treatment to control their symptoms.
It’s estimated that three million people in the U.S. have epilepsy. In some cases, the condition can greatly affect a person’s quality of life. This is especially true for generalized seizures. Unlike focal seizures, which only affect consciousness, generalized seizures can cause stiffening of the muscles and collapse, sometimes coupled with loss of consciousness. Any loss of consciousness can be extremely dangerous during certain activities, such as driving.
While medical experts know epilepsy is caused by abnormal electrical signals in the brain, they have yet to determine a specific trigger for epileptic seizures. The reason why some people have epilepsy and others don’t is also largely unknown, although genetic influences and head trauma could contribute to the condition.
Currently, epilepsy is treated with medications which control brain activity to prevent seizures from happening. Some patients, including children, may be able to stop taking medication over time. Yet, because they alter brain chemistry, antiepileptic drugs can lead to a host of unfavorable side effects, including drowsiness and dizziness. In some cases, brain surgery may also be considered as a treatment option.
Stem Cell Therapy for Epilepsy
Recently, another therapy has also emerged with promise. Stem cell therapy, a form of regenerative medicine, has the potential to improve quality of life for patients with epilepsy. Researchers are exploring how stem cells could be transplanted into the patient in areas where interneurons appear to be causing seizures. Interneurons are nerve cells which are responsible for communication within the brain. In a brain with epilepsy, the balance between neurons which control and promote activity is off, but transplanting stem cells in affected areas of the brain could address the issue. The stem cells would transform into inhibitory neurons to control brain activity, thereby preventing seizures.
Stem cells are also introducing new research opportunities for scientists. Using patient-derived skin cells, researchers can apply biochemicals to get the cells to regress into induced pluripotent stem cells, which can then differentiate into a wide variety of cell types. They can then be treated to transform into neurons with the mutation that causes epilepsy. This allows scientists to study the brain cells of people with epilepsy without having to extract them.
In the future, technologies surrounding regenerative medicine will evolve and protocols for stem cell therapy will be refined. Although there is much to be done before stem cell therapy becomes the go-to treatment for epilepsy, it could be an alternative option for patients experiencing severe seizures to research and consider.
This post was written by Becky Palmer, a medical professional at https://www.stemedix.com. At Stemedix we provide access to Regenerative Medicine. Regenerative medicine has the natural potential to help improve symptoms sometimes lost from the progression of many conditions.