Researchers have discovered silk implants as epilepsy treatment may be possible, as silk releases a chemical that may slows epilepsy’s development.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation reveals that when implanted in the brain of lab animals, silk released adenosine, a chemical that decreases neuronal excitability and in turn, helps to stop seizures. Previous scientific studies have concluded there may be a connection between low levels of adenosine and the onset of epilepsy, leading researchers to believe that by increasing its presence in the brain they may be able to slow or even stop the progression of epilepsy.

In the study cited in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, laboratory rats received adenosine-releasing silk implants in their brains. A specific set of rats was also induced to develop epilepsy. To mimic a setting in which a patient requires treatment for an established case of epilepsy, the epileptic rats were not treated with the silk implants until their condition was verifiable and they had experienced a certain number of seizures.

The epileptic rats had high levels of DNA methylation, but the researchers found that the levels of adenosine in the rats’ brains affected their DNA methylation. Specifically, the higher the levels of adenosine (which were released by the silk implants), the lower the levels of DNA methylation, and consequently, the closer the epileptic rats’ brains resembled the brains of the normal laboratory rats.

Furthermore, the sustained higher levels of adenosine in the epileptic rats proved to significantly lessen the progression of the rats’ epilepsy over time, causing the researchers to believe that silk implants as epilepsy treatment could be effective.

The researchers also found that the presence of the adenosine inhibited “sprouting,” a term used to describe the creation of new excitatory circuits in part of the brain where seizures are typically initiated with certain types of epilepsy.

The study was conducted for a period of three months. To determine whether silk implants as epilepsy treatment could be effective as a long-term therapy for humans, a study with a longer trial period will need to be conducted. Future studies will also have to consider the safety involved in their implantation in human brains, the ideal dosage of adenosine, the duration of the release of adenosine into the brain, and other factors.

While it’s true a lot of research still needs to take place, medical professionals and those who suffer from epilepsy can be encouraged by this study and others that are taking place to find alternative treatments for patients.

Image by Steve Depolo via Flickr

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