Late last year, Israeli scientists at Ben Gurion University released a report explaining how they had discovered "biomarkers" that may make it possible to predict and prevent seizures in patients with epilepsy.
Using EEG recordings of the brain's theta waves, the team of researchers was able to identify changes in brain wave patterns. Using collected data, they discovered that they could begin to accurately predict when someone who had suffered a head injury would develop epilepsy.
PIE or post injury epilepsy is a common outcome of TBI or traumatic brain injury. It occurs in roughly ten to forty percent of those who survive a severe head injury, but it can emerge years after the event. It is unpreventable during post injury care, and it is often devastating to those who develop it. In addition to those with PIE, there are millions of other epilepsy patients unable to respond to medications, and so any hope of identifying and preventing seizures is welcome news.
Understanding the Study and Its Findings
While many are focusing on drugs that might offer respite from seizures in those who are not responsive to other epilepsy or seizure drugs, one of the authors of the report made a remarkably potent point. He said, "While news of promising drugs likely to prevent the onset of epilepsy has emanated from scientific research, we need to first detect reliable biomarkers in the brain that predict which patients will develop the disease"
Biomarkers are defined as "a measurable substance in an organism whose presence is indicative of some phenomenon such as disease, infection, or environmental exposure." Clearly, there is a lot of weight to the idea that effective drugs cannot be created without first knowing which biomarkers are tied to seizure activity.
Did the team detect substances that could be viewed as biomarkers? No, but they did detect a variation on the biomarker concept - Theta waves.
The team in the study made some initial breakthroughs by tracking theta waves in EEGs and discovering that this could allow them to begin predicting five different kinds of PIE in laboratory animals. They used EEGs from the time of the brain injury to the time that seizures began and determined there was "a specific pattern of theta activity decline over time as signs of epilepsy development" emerged.
What they believe is that their findings can allow for more targeted clinical studies in human patients willing to undergo intense EEG study. Their hope will be to identify ways of more accurately predicting and recognizing theta wave activity that is a sign of seizure risk. Additionally, the team is working on also developing treatments for "other neuropsychiatric complications that develop after brain injuries" After all, PIE is also a condition that triggers issues like depression and cognitive decline in those who develop it.
What It Means
Whether you or a loved one have epilepsy that is not responsive to medications, or a suffered a traumatic head injury and developed PIE and other issues, this study should bring hope. It proves that there are actual advances being made in eliminating the unpredictability of seizures, which is such a devastating part of the condition. However, being able to also tag biomarkers and causal factors also means that a more effective treatment is on the way.
This is a developing story but one that deserves a lot of attention. At this time, over two million people in the U.S. alone have epilepsy that won't respond to medication. Though a ketogenic diet, stress and trigger management and more extreme options can be used, this study proves that there could be a far more effective treatment just over the horizon.