This article features CURE Grantee David Henshall.
A finger-prick blood test to diagnose epilepsy could be available within five years, according to scientists who are using tell-tale molecules called biomarkers to overcome current diagnostic problems and guide treatment.
‘Diagnosis of epilepsy is really difficult,’ explained David Henshall, professor of molecular physiology and neuroscience at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. ‘Seizures are the main clinical symptom for the disease but it is very rare that a doctor will witness the patient having a seizure. This makes epilepsy completely different from Parkinson’s disease, for example, where the doctor can observe the symptoms.’
One of the most common tests for epilepsy is an electroencephalogram (EEG), which detects abnormal electrical activity in the brain. ‘The problem is that a lot of people with epilepsy have normal EEGs, while others may have abnormal EEGs but do not have epilepsy,’ said Prof. Henshall. ‘That’s why we need a better test.’
An ideal solution would be a simple blood test that detects biomarkers – the tell-tale molecular signs that someone has epilepsy. Prof. Henshall leads the EPIMIRNA consortium which has been studying micro RNA (miRNA) – micro ribonucleic acid, molecules which can influence genes – to see if these could be the key to diagnosing epilepsy.
By comparing the levels of several miRNA molecules in the blood of healthy volunteers with levels in epilepsy patients, the researchers can see which ones are associated with epilepsy.
‘We have identified a set of miRNAs that are consistently changed in the blood levels of people with epilepsy,’ Prof Henshall said.