Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Brain cooling reduces epileptic seizures

Epilepsy is something like a temporary overload of the brain. The seizures that accompany the disease are defined as "abnormal excessive or synchronous neuronal activity in the brain", which basically means that the thing lights up like a Christmas tree. Seizures can have various causes, but in patients with epilepsy, a cause is often hard to establish. A cure is also not available; with medication it is possible to control the symptoms, but so far it remains impossible prevent seizures. A novel attempt by scientists from the Yamaguchi University to treat epileptic seizures is based on something completely different: they found a way to ameliorate the symptoms by cooling down the brain.

Cooling plate
Because reducing the brain temperature is not that easy and potentially lethal, such techniques have not yet been attempted clinically in human patients. At the Yamaguchi University, scientists have been testing a device that could be used to perform brain cooling in the clinic. It consists of a titanium cooling plate that is placed directly on the surface of the brain and works by heat exchange.

Animal models
Obviously, it is not allowed to test such devices without first establishing safety. That is why the scientists used an animal model to test their cooling plate. Experimentally induced seizures in rodents were required to test whether the device is actually able to reduce the symptoms. Results showed that reducing brain temperature to 15 degrees was able to 'significantly reduce' the seizure's impact. It is however unclear whether the temperature of 15 degrees in itself does not cause any long-term damage. The scientists claim that they have tested the device for a period of five months so far, in which it did not cause any brain damage.

Previous research already revealed that reducing the temperature of the brain could potentially alleviate the symptoms found in epileptic patients. However, a device that is both safe and feasible has not yet been brought to the clinic. The cooling plate developed by the Yamaguchi University may however eventually end up there. Because tests on human patients have not yet been performed, there is still a long way to go. The scientists think their method is especially useful for drug-resistant epilepsy.

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