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17 June 2016

Cardiff University to investigate new treatment for temporal lobe epilepsy

A new project will explore the possibility of treating temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) in humans by transplanting immature neuron cells into the brain.

The new project, funded by a 24-month pilot grant from Epilepsy Research UK (ERUK), will allow a team from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine to carry out research that will pave the way for human clinical trials that could potentially take place in the next five years.

Temporal lobe epilepsy

One of the earliest detectable brain changes in TLE is a loss or dysfunction of interneurons in the hippocampus of the brain. In theory, it should be possible to treat this by replacing the lost or damaged interneurons with new ones, and experimental attempts to do this have been promising.

The study

The project is further exploring this cell transplantation technique, using 3D cultures of human epileptic brain tissue that has been removed during epilepsy surgery. After adding human stem cells to these cultures researchers have found that, although many die, some survive and show signs of early maturation. These cultures will be used to determine what allows transplanted cells to survive and develop.

Principal Investigator for the project, Cardiff University's Professor Liam Gray, said:

"This exciting project will give significant insights into the feasibility of cell transplantation for treating seizures and cognitive problems in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy."

Successful transplant in animal models

Researchers have already successfully transplanted human stem cells that generate interneurons into the brains of epileptic animal models, producing a 90 per cent reduction in seizures. However, the models used in these studies did not have active immune systems, which was essential to ensuring they did not reject the transplanted cells. In human TLE the hippocampus is very inflamed, and long-term suppression of the immune system is not feasible.

Realising the technique

In order to realise the technique as a viable treatment for TLE, researchers must understand what signals are exchanged between the inflamed hippocampus and transplanted cells in humans, and how this will affect the survival, development and integration of the new interneurons. This will enable scientists to provide an optimal environment for transplanted cells and offer the best chance of success to patients.

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