Hope for epileptics as scientists discover device implanted in the brain cuts seizures by 93% over three months

  • Unnamed ‘chip’ gives out the proteins GDNFs in the hippocampus in the brain
  • GDNFs help produce dopamine, with low levels being associated with seizures
  • When implanted in epileptic rats, they were protected even once it was removed 

Scientists have raised hope for epileptics after creating a ‘chip’ that cuts seizures by 93 per cent over three months.

The device, which has not been named, continuously gives out the protein GDNF in an area of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is associated with epilepsy.

GDNF is critical to the production of the chemical messenger dopamine, with low levels being linked to seizures.

When the chip was implanted in the brains of epileptic rats, the rodents experienced 75 per cent fewer seizures after just two weeks.

And the animals continued to be protected even once the chip was removed, suggesting it modified the cells of the rodents’ brains, safeguarding them against epilepsy.  Scientists have raised hope for epileptics after creating a 'chip' that cuts seizures by 93 per cent over three months (stock image is a depiction of a patient after having a seizure)

The research was carried out by the University of Ferrara, Italy, and Gloriana Therapeutics – the non-profit biotech company behind the chip.

It was led by Giovanna Paolone, a research assistant in the department of pharmacology at the university.

Around one in 100 people in the UK have epilepsy, which is defined as seizures that start in the brain, Epilepsy Society statistics reveal.

And in the US, 1.2 per cent of the population have the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Targeting nerve tissue growth has been suggested as a way of treating epilepsy, however, getting the right concentration of drugs in the correct area of the brain has always been a challenge.

But scientists may have overcome this by developing a chip that continuously delivers GDNF (glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor) where it needs to go. GDNF is expressed within the cells of the hippocampus.

The hippocampus – which stores memories – degrades following continued epileptics seizures, however, its exact role in the disease is unclear.

A third of patients with a form of epilepsy that affects the hippocampus are immune to treatment, which causes their condition to become more severe over time.

The researchers genetically-modified cells found in the retina, known as ARPE-19, to produce high levels of GDNF before enclosing them in a semi-permeable membrane.  This allowed oxygen and nutrients in, while letting GDNF out.

To test the chip, scientists implanted it into the hippocampus of 37 rats. The rodents were made to be epileptic by injecting them with the drug pilocarpine, which is used to treat dry mouth and relieves pressure in the eyes.

Results revealed the chip reduced the number of motor seizures – when the muscles go stiff or weaken temporarily – by 75 per cent within two weeks and 93 per cent after three months.

The researchers then staggered the removal of the chips from rats by between one week and six months after they were implanted.

Even once the device was removed, the animals continued to experience less seizures, which suggests the device modified their disease.

They also showed decreased anxiety – a key complication of epilepsy. Anxiety was measured by the time the rats spent in the open area of a maze over ‘hiding’ in corners or close to the walls.

When the rats were put down and their brains examined, the scientists even found the chip reduced the degradation of their hippocampus.

Overall, the researchers claim their chip delivers GDNF in a ‘sustained, targeted, and efficacious manner’.

They hope the device will be tested in further animal studies and eventually in patients.

Ley Sander, medical director at Epilepsy Society and professor of neurology at University College London, told MailOnline: ‘Targeted treatments that go straight to the source of a seizure are offering real hope for the future in the treatment of epilepsy.

‘The hippocampus is a key area in the brain for generating seizures and for many with this type of epilepsy, their seizures are not controlled with conventional medications.

‘At Epilepsy Society our genomic research is trying to understand at an individual level what causes a person’s epilepsy. We believe this will enable us to deliver far more personalised medicines in the future.

‘Hopefully, the work of these scientists at the University of Ferrara in Italy may be a future option for some.’


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