Understanding the connection between the brain and the heart and the possible malfunction of cells and mechanisms in the connection may lead to better understanding and prevention of SUDEP and other cardiac symptoms related to epilepsy.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — For children and adults with epilepsy, the possibility of dying suddenly and without warning looms in the background all the time – yet scientists and doctors still don’t know why it occurs.
Now, researchers from theUniversity of Michigan Medical School and colleagues around the nation will try to get to the heart of this mystery, and perhaps find new ways to spot those most at risk. A new $3.3 million grant will help fuel the U-M work.
The U-M team believes that the answer for some epilepsy patients may actually lie in the heart, its connection to the brain, and genetic defects that occur in cells of both organs. By studying those cells, they hope to find out exactly what’s going on.
They’ll explore the heart-brain connection with the new five-year grant, announced today by the National Institutes of Health. Their work will use heart cells from animals, and brain and heart cells made from human “adult” stem cells.
These heart cells made from “adult” stem cells derived from a patient’s skin have been carefully stained to show which cells are destined to become part of a ventricle (green), and which will become part of an atrium (red). This kind of details helps scientists understand what’s going wrong in the cells.
The stem cells actually started out as skin cells donated by patients with Dravet syndrome, a severe form of childhood epilepsy – so they carry the genetic defect that causes that disease. That defect, which affects electrical activity between cells, occurs in both heart and brain cells.
The U-M team’s grant, from the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, is part of a new Center Without Walls that involves scientists in nine groups around the country. All the teams will work on different aspects of SUDEP, or sudden death in epilepsy, and share their results with one another in person and online.
SUDEP kills one in every 1,000 people with any form of epilepsy each year, most of them between the ages of 20 and 40. For children, teens and young adults with Dravet syndrome, the rate is even higher.
“SUDEP is the most devastating complication of epilepsy, and we’re only now understanding how common it is,” says Jack Parent, M.D., a neurologist who co-directs the U-M Health System’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Program and co-leads the U-M SUDEP team. “Many of the researchers in this center have lost patients to SUDEP. This funding will mobilize us to make inroads into this terrible problem.”
Lori Isom, Ph.D., the co-lead of the new project and interim chair of the U-M Department of Pharmacology, notes that the Center Without Walls funding approach will especially help the U-M team, because their focus straddles two different organs. They hope to find biomarkers, or detectable signs in heart rhythms or brain waves, that can act as a warning sign for a high potential of SUDEP and guide treatment.
Plus, the grant will help them work with researchers led by Doug Nordli, M.D., at the Lurie Children’s Hospital at Northwestern University, which has a large clinical program for Dravet syndrome and will look at heart rhythm activity during and after seizures in its patients as part of the study.
Many Dravet patients don’t respond to current epilepsy medications, making the search for new options urgent. Their lives are constantly under threat by the risk of SUDEP – and they never outgrow their condition, which delays their development and often requires round-the-clock monitoring and care.
KEEP READING AT SOURCE: http://www.uofmhealth.org/news/archive/201412/brain-heart-connection-u-m-scientists-take-deadly-epilepsy