10 August 2017

Collaborating with Kempenhaeghe and Maastrict UMC+, Radboudumc and the Donders Institute are starting research into predicting the effects of antiepileptic medication.

The researchers are using a special technique where stem cells taken from a patient grow into a ‘miniature brain’ on a chip. This miniature brain can be used to test different types of antiepileptic medication. This will enable personalized medication without burdening the patient. The foundation Epilepsiefonds funds the research with almost two hundred thousand Euro.

Epileptic patients depend on medication to keep their condition under control. Yet determining the correct for a given patient is not a simple process. Up to this point, a neurologist or paediatrician needs to consider the type of seizures, their frequency and other symptoms of epilepsy when choosing a particular antiepileptic medication. Despite this, the first medication chosen often works insufficiently, or may even degrade the situation.

The ‘miniature brain’

Using the so-called hiPSC technique (human-induced pluripotent stem cells) it is possible to test the effects of several antiepileptic medications, without at all burdening the patient. Molecular neurobiologist Nael Nadif Kasri at Radboudumc: “A small amount of blood cells are collected from a patient. We then transform these into stem cells, and these stem cells are then transformed into nerve cells. Once these cells are placed on a chip, it is possible to read out the activity of a highly individualized network of your patient’s brain cells.” Because the cells are based on the blood cells of the patient, this miniature brain reflects all unique features of that patient. In this way, it becomes possible to conveniently test which medication will maximize the beneficial effects for the patient, while minimizing side-effects.

Edging closer towards tailored medicine

Up to this point, treatment with antiepileptics often results in a period of ‘trial and error’. Sometimes there can be problems with the effects of the medication, or there could be undesirable side effects. But particularly for an epileptic child, this period also is a loss of valuable time, as epilepsy can aversely affect the child’s development. The earlier the condition is brought under control, the greater the chances are that the child will be able to live a normal life. Therefore, this research will also provide insight into the difference in development and the seriousness of epilepsy in children with DNA-errors in the same genes.

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