January 14, 2021

First-Ever Attempt to Treat Naturally Occurring Epilepsy in an Animal Using Transplanted Cells

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Abstract, originally published by University of California San Francisco

A cellular therapy for epilepsy developed at UC San Francisco has been employed for the first time in a sea lion with intractable seizures caused by ingesting toxins from algal blooms. The procedure is the first-ever attempt to treat naturally occurring epilepsy in any animal using transplanted cells.

Since 2009, the lab of former CURE Epilepsy Grantee Dr. Scott Baraban has been developing a way to replace these damaged interneurons by transplanting embryonic MGE (medial ganglionic eminence) progenitor cells into the hippocampus. As discovered two decades ago by Baraban’s UCSF colleagues Arturo Álvarez-Buylla, PhD, and John Rubenstein, PhD, MGE cells normally migrate into hippocampus during brain development and integrate themselves into the local circuitry as inhibitory neurons.

Baraban’s group has shown that it’s possible to transplant embryonic MGE cells into the brains of adult rodents with temporal lobe epilepsy, where they quickly spread through the hippocampus and repair its damaged circuitry. The procedure reliably reduces seizures in these animals by 90 percent, along with other side effects of epilepsy, such as anxiety and memory problems.