The Duke University medical complex in Durham is a wonder to behold, not just because of its size and accomplished doctors treating patients but also thanks to ground-breaking research into all sorts of illness and treatment. So much is going on at Duke (and yes, at nearby UNC-Chapel Hill) that it’s sometimes easy to almost take it for granted.
But a project from Duke scientists is among many reasons why that would be a foolish thing to do.
Dr. James McNamara, professor of neuroscience in the Duke medical school, is a leader in a study of how to prevent epilepsy in mice, one that has made a significant discovery.
It’s difficult to explain in layman’s terms, but Duke scientists focused something called a protein receptor found on the surface of neurons. Those are the building blocks of the nervous system in the brain. When the receptors get a certain kind of protein signal, the neurons’ excitability can increase and so can the chance of a seizure. In the research, Duke scientists blocked the receptor’s activity after an initial long seizure. After two weeks of treatment, there was a big reduction in the development of epilepsy later in the life of the mice.
The hope, obviously, that that such preventive treatment might one day be effective in humans.
Duke’s mice were genetically modified to allow the use of a chemical interacting with the receptors. What that means is that scientists could manipulate the brain changes in mice in a way that would better match the way epilepsy acts in humans.
It’s all about finding epilepsy’s causes as well as treating its symptoms. For millions and millions of people, that might one day help make life immeasurably better.