Simple blood test could provide early warning for epilepsy patients

A pattern of molecules appear in the blood before a seizure happens


Scientists have identified a pattern of molecules that appear in the blood before a seizure happens, a finding that may pave the way for predicting seizure in epilepsy patients before they happen.

Researchers at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland discovered molecules in the blood that are higher in people with epilepsy before a seizure happens.

These molecules are fragments of transfer RNAs (tRNAs), a chemical closely related to DNA that performs an important role in building proteins within the cell, according to the research published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI).

When cells are stressed, tRNAs are cut into fragments. Higher levels of the fragments in the blood could reflect that brain cells are under stress in the build up to a seizure event.

Using blood samples from people with epilepsy, the team found that fragment levels of three tRNAs "spike" in the blood many hours before a seizure.

"People with epilepsy often report that one of the most difficult aspects of living with the disease is never knowing when a seizure will occur," said Marion Hogg, lecturer at RCSI.

"The results of this study are very promising. We hope that our tRNA research will be a key first step toward developing an early warning system," said Hogg.

The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 50 million people worldwide have epilepsy.

"New technologies to remove the unpredictability of uncontrolled seizures for people with epilepsy are a very real possibility," said David Henshall, a professor at RCSI.

The researchers hope to develop a test prototype, similar to a blood sugar monitor that can potentially predict when a seizure might occur.