UCSF researchers have found a way to cure epilepsy in mice using cell transplantation and hope to implement this technique to cure forms of human epilepsy.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and by the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine and is centered on epilepsy. Tumors, infection, genetics or injury can all cause epilepsy, a seizure disorder that affects the nervous system and is characterized by the occurrence of abnormal electrical discharge in the brain.

Cell therapy is becoming a key component in curing this disorder, since the latest drugs only control symptoms or simply do not have any therapeutic value at all. According to the leader of the study Scott Baraban, 30 percent of all epilepsy patients do not respond to current medications.

The major categories of epilepsy are idiopathic generalized, idiopathic partial, symptomatic generalized or symptomatic partial epilepsy. Idiopathic means that the type of epilepsy is genetically acquired, whereas symptomatic refers to epilepsy acquired from an unknown cause. Generalized is associated with the whole brain and partial is associated with only a focused region in the brain.

Scott Baraban and his team of scientists have researched a way to completely control the seizures in epileptic mice — a transplantation of medical ganglionic eminence (MGE) cells. MGE cells are neural progenitor cells from the mouse embryo that inhibit signaling in cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with seizures, learning and memory. The usage of MGE cures all forms of epilepsy in the mice — genetic or acquired.

Baraban explained how long it takes for the mice to respond to the new cells and what happens after the transplant.

“It takes about 30 to 45 days for the transplanted cells to migrate and integrate following transplantation. After that we can see a therapeutic effect,” Baraban said. “In this paper, we showed that spontaneous seizures were dramatically reduced by over 90 percent and a number of behavioral or cognitive problems these epileptic mice normally have were ‘rescued’ back to levels similar to that seen in healthy mice.”

The scientists also injected the MGE cells into healthy mice and concluded that inhibitory synaptic transmission is boosted about 20-30 percent.

The mouse model is made to mirror severe human epilepsy called mesial temporal lobe epilepsy, but implementing this treatment in human medicine is a long way away.

“While we are very excited that this approach worked in a mouse model of epilepsy, there remain several critical and time-consuming steps before a similar treatment can be tried in patients with epilepsy,” Baraban said.