New brain cell study suggests fresh approaches to treating epilepsy

Scientists at Canada’s McGill University have made a new brain cell discovery which could affect the way neurological conditions like epilepsy are treated in the near future.

Research published in the Canadian journal, Science, has highlighted an improved scientific understanding of star-shaped cells known as astrocytes – revealing that the properties of these cells are modifiable in ways previously unheard of.

The cells, which typically act to protect brain neurons and neural circuits from injury, were found to contain a dial-like mechanism which delivered support in helping billions of brain cells to communicate.

Scientists discovered that this process was altered in cases where the brain had been affected by the likes of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, strokes and epilepsy.

Previously, scientists believed that astrocytes were hardwired in their important roles.

However, the discovery that astrocytes are modifiable means that scientists can now potentially tweak these cells to help restore losses to brain function caused by neurological diseases.

Dr Keith Murai, associate professor of McGill’s department of neurology and neurosurgery, said: “This is an extraordinary mechanism in the healthy, mature brain that creates diversity of brain cells. Now our goal is to see how this mechanism is affected in different brain diseases and determine if it can be harnessed to protect neurons and ultimately preserve brain function.”

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