The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center an exploratory and developmental grant worth nearly $400,000. Barrow’s grant application scored in the top one percent of submissions.
Within the next two years, researchers led by Jie Wu, M.D., associate staff scientist at Barrow, will use the grant to study the mechanisms of gelastic seizures in patients with hypothalamic hamartomas (HH). Dr. Wu and his colleagues will study the neurons from the tumors to understand why HH causes gelastic seizures in patients.
“The study will hopefully provide new insights about how HH causes seizures and why gelastic seizures are resistant to anti-epileptic medications,” says Dr. Wu.
Scientists at Barrow have spent more than three years studying tissues from hamartoma tumors and have found that most of the cells within the tissue are unique neurons that act like pacemakers with firing characteristics. They have identified that 90 percent of the neurons in HH contain gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that typically causes inhibition. Barrow scientists are testing a new hypothesis that GABA may cause excitement as opposed to inhibition in some HH neurons and cause seizures.
Barrow is one of a few centers in the country that performs surgeries on patients with HH. This provides a foundation for the hospital to develop new strategies to improve the treatment and control of gelastic epilepsy.
Contact: Carmelle Malkovich
St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center