Nearly 3 million people in the U.S. suffer from epilepsy, a condition of the brain which causes seizures, unusual sensations, and, sometimes, loss of consciousness. Epilepsy can develop at any age, in both humans and animals, and is most often due to genetics or a traumatic brain injury.
The biological process of developing epilepsy is called epileptogenesis (EPG). During this period, the brain forms new networks of neurons, and scientists believe that receptors on the surface of these neurons are activated in some way that makes them hyper-excitable, but very little is known about how this process works.
In the Department of Biological Sciences, at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Sreekanth Puttachary’s team is studying mice to better understand EPG, so that they may eventually be able to slow down, or even prevent, the development of epilepsy.
Once epilepsy develops, it is extremely difficult to cure. “Even after a century of research,” says Dr. Puttachary, “epilepsy remains a disease that is not well understood.”
Currently there are more than 25 anti-epileptic drugs on the market that provide relief from seizures, but those drugs have side effects, and also increase the risk of seizure relapse when they are discontinued. Fully one third of epileptics don’t even respond to these medications, so his laboratory is focused on developing drugs to slow or prevent the development of epilepsy. “There is a critical window of opportunity,” he says.
Cannabidiol is a compound found in marijuana that has demonstrated a strong potential for treatment of neurological disorders. “Neurons in the brain have cannabinoid receptors that, when activated by cannabidiol, reduce neuron excitability,” says Dr. Puttachary. His laboratory is investigating the use of cannabidiol during EPG, and its impact on the progression of epilepsy.
The laboratory uses several state-of-the-art research tools, including:
· Continuous video monitoring of rodent brain activity during EPG that records the effects of neuron changes, like hyper-excitability, leading up to an initial seizure episode. They can also record the effects of cannabidiol when given soon after the seizure to see if it has any sustained benefit in preventing recurrent seizures.
· A Multi-electrode Array that connects neurons in a slice of brain tissue to electronic circuitry and records hyperexcitability. The brain slices are from both control group rodents and those treated with cannabidiol.
“My long-term plan is to develop a dedicated EEG facility at OSU to provide expertise in identification, testing, and validation of intervention drugs that will prevent or cure epilepsy,” says Dr. Puttachary.