Imagine going along having your regular thoughts about the day, walking to the kitchen to pick up a tea cup and then, suddenly, your brain short-circuits, you stand there staring, confused, regular signals are not getting through. Moments may pass before you re-connect, and this goes on – surprising you on random but regular occasions. On another day, you are simply stepping out of bed when it happens – uncontrollable tremors in the body, you drop to the floor struggling to maintain consciousness until it passes. This could happen anywhere, you are glad it was at home this time. Epilepsy affects about 50 million people worldwide and is caused by abnormal activity in the brain. New science is experimenting with placing a piece of silk in the brain of epileptics with the hopes of helping stop epileptic attacks.
Why silk? Apparently the silk can be designed to release a specific chemical, adenosine, which could possibly stop epilepsy from progressing. After the chemical is used up, the silk would harmlessly dissolve in the body. This study was recently published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, and supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) – both parts of the National Institutes of Health.
This research has only been conducted on rats up to this point, though scientists are hopeful with the results they have obtained. Investigators from Oregon Health and Science University and Legacy Research Institute, both in Portland, Oregon and at Tufts University in Boston stated:
Adenosine’s beneficial effects are due to epigenetic modifications (chemical reactions that change the way genes are turned on or off without altering the DNA code, the letters that make up our genetic background). Specifically, these changes happen when a molecule known as a methyl group blocks a portion of DNA, affecting which genes are accessible and can be turned on. If methyl groups have been taken away (demethylated), genes are more likely to turn on.
Apparently, the greater the levels of andenosine, the lower the levels of DNA methylation, which for epileptics, is a good thing. Rats with epilepsy have been found to have high brain methylation. Dr. Detlev Boison, who is doing this work says that though this silk treatment does not necessarily stop the epilepsy all together, it dramatically reduced the the attacks: “the adenosine-releasing silk did not completely abolish seizures in their animal model but reduced them four-fold.“
Those eagerly engaged in this work are hoping to find relief for the 25-30% of epileptics who do not have proper treatment. Will silk placed in the brain help epilepsy? Studies are still engaged in finding this out. If you have epilepsy or know someone who does, you know finding answers is crucial to being able to engage life without concern for relapse. Those who will most benefit from this potential treatment are those who have experienced seizures as a result of serious head trauma. As for other cases of epilepsy, answers remain to be seen.
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Written by: Stasia Bliss