Epilepsy is a common type of neurological disorder. There is currently no cure for epilepsy, and the treatments tend to be toward managing symptoms. Symptomatic treatments such as anti-epileptic drugs can be effective for many people. In fact, about two-thirds of epilepsy sufferers will find relief with these types of drugs. However, about 30% of patients do not find their seizures under control.
Researchers are looking to find better and more effective therapies for those who suffer from epilepsy. One of the options that shows promise is stem cell therapy.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are known as master cells in the body. They are the cells that serve as the building blocks for blood, tissue, organs, and the immune system. The potential for using stem cells in medicine is staggering. Research first began on these cells in the 1950s. Stem cell therapy has the potential to help those who are suffering from spinal cord injuries, burns, heart disease, autoimmune disease, osteoarthritis, inherited disorders, and neurological disorders, such as epilepsy.
A stem cell has the ability to divide and renew itself over a long period of time. In fact, it can create millions of cells in a lab setting in a matter of months. Stem cells are not specialized, which means they can be used to create many other types of cells in the body. In some cases, they can be induced to become specialized tissue cells. The value in this is that stem cells can be used to treat disorders that affect tissue in the endoderm (skin and nervous system of an embryo).
How Could It Work for Epilepsy?
It is important to remember that stem cell research in epilepsy is still in its early stages. The only tests that have been done so far are in animals, but research has found two different ways that stem cell therapy could be used to treat epilepsy.
The first experiments involved transplanting interneurons. Interneurons are neurons that form in the brain and spinal cord. Scientists were able to take these neurons and transplant them into the brains of animals that have seizures. They discovered that the addition of these cells could help to inhibit and reduce then number of seizures in these animals. There are still a number of questions that remain unanswered with this type of treatment. Namely, they need to know how long the effect will last and whether there are any side effects.
The other type of experiment is one that may potentially help those who suffer from genetic mutation in their neurons, such as those who suffer from Dravet syndrome. In this genetic study, researchers looked at pluripotent stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells are master cells that can produce three types of cells, including those in the ectoderm, which is the skin and nervous system. They discovered a way to take connective tissue from those who suffer from Dravet Syndrome and create pluripotent stem cells, which can be made into neurons. At this point, it is unknown whether pluripotent stem cells can ultimately become a treatment for Dravet Syndrome.
Although there is still much work to do in this area, stem cell therapy appears to show promise for those who are suffering from epilepsy.