University of Manchester researchers believe they have found the answer to the early prevention of epilepsy in the tiny nervous systems of fruit flies

Drosophila_melanogaster_-_side_aka-1Scientists in Manchester believe they have found the answer to the early prevention of epilepsy – in the tiny nervous systems of fruit flies.

The revolutionary new approach has been pioneered by two scientists at the University of Manchester with the use of light.

Professor Richard Baines and Dr Carlo Giachello used a genetically-altered fruit fly to show how nervous system activity can be suppressed by shining yellow light through its embryo.

As a result they found the embryo would not go on to develop symptoms of the disease as it got older.

Though the procedure has only been tested on flies, the team believe it proves that the development of epilepsy can be stopped if treated early.

Prof Baines said: “We’re excited by this discovery which we believe is proof of principle and a milestone in the way we understand epilepsy – though clearly more research is needed in mammals.

“But if these findings are taken to their logical conclusion, then we might envisage the possibility of being able to treat individuals at an early enough stage so they do not go on to develop the symptoms of epilepsy.

“After all, amazing though it might seem, the underlying biology of the central nervous system is the same in humans as it is in flies.”

Researchers say the new procedure could also permanently prevent seizures with the use of an ‘optogenetic tool’ – a gene which allows yellow light to control cells in living tissue.

Flies do not have spontaneous seizures like humans but the team say there is no reason to suggest that the effect would be any different.

Dr Giachello added: “By using this optogenetic tool, we found that if we prevent nervous system activity at a time when the fly embryo is between 80 and 90pc fully developed, seizures stop entirely.

“Optogenetics is a recent development in biology which is causing quite a bit of excitement, not just in the treatment of epilepsy but other illnesses too.”

This new technique, which was developed and tested over three-years and published in Current Biology, will not benefit individuals who already have epilepsy.

More than 500, 000 people in the UK suffer with the disease.