Health Scan: Brain waves may predict and prevent post-injury epilepsy

The American Epilepsy Foundation estimates that more than two million people in the US have, or have had, some form of epilepsy.

Brain scan (illustrative) (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Brain scan (illustrative)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
A promising biomarker for predicting and potentially preventing epileptic seizures in patients with brain injuries using electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings of theta brain waves has been discovered by Ben-Gurion University researchers. The findings were recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Prof. Alon Friedman, a researcher in the Brain Imaging Research Center and the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience, demonstrated how using EEGs to identify changes in brain wave patterns over time can predict which post-injury patients will develop epilepsy. A serious neurological disorder that disturbs nerve cell activity in the brain, epilepsy causes seizures during which people experience uncontrolled shaking and movement or loss of consciousness.
“Post-injury epilepsy (PIE) is a devastating, unpreventable consequence of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and stroke, which develops in 10% to 40% of survivors months, or even years later,” he said.
The American Epilepsy Foundation estimates that more than two million people in the US have, or have had, some form of epilepsy, and many do not respond to medication. In addition to suffering from unpredictable, often difficult to control seizures, patients with PIE are also prone to neuropsychiatric conditions such as cognitive decline and depression.
“While scientific research offers news of promising drugs likely to prevent the onset of epilepsy, we first need to detect reliable biomarkers in the brain that predict which patients will develop the disease,” added Friedman.
Through their research, the BGU team discovered that theta waves, measured as part of an EEG, can predict five different types of post-injury epilepsy in mice and rats. Theta waves generate the rhythmic, neural oscillatory pattern in EEG signals, recorded either from inside the brain or from electrodes glued to the scalp. By tracking continuous recordings from the time of injury through the onset of spontaneous seizures, they discovered that a specific pattern of theta activity declines over time as signs of epilepsy develop. This pattern also seems to be associated with disturbances in sleep-wake cycles.
“These findings hold great promise for expediting targeted clinical investigations of EEG dynamics in human patients, which could lead to new approaches for predicting, and eventually treating, epilepsy as well as other neuropsychiatric complications that develop after brain injuries,” commented lead study author Dan Milikovsky, an MD/PhD student at the Zlotowski Center.
LACK OF SLEEP COULD WORSEN MOOD IN TEENS Parents of teenagers probably have noted that their kids get moody if they don’t get enough sleep. Now University of Pittsburgh researchers have proven that chronic sleep deprivation, which can involve staying up late and waking up early for work or school – poses serious health and mental health risks. Even a short period of sleep restriction can, over the long term, raise the risk of depression and addiction, they discovered.
University of Pittsburgh’s Peter Franzen and Erika Forbes invited 35 participants, aged 11.5 to 15 years, into a sleep lab for two nights. Half of the participants slept for 10 hours, while the other half slept only four hours. A week later, they came back to the lab for another two nights and adopted the opposite sleep schedule from their initial visit.
Each time they visited the lab, the participants underwent brain scans while playing a game that involved receiving monetary rewards of $1 and $10. At the end of each visit, the teens answered questions that measured their emotional functioning, as well as depression symptoms.
The researchers found that sleep deprivation affected the putamen, an area of the brain that plays a role in goal-based movements and learning from rewards. When participants were sleep deprived and the reward in the game they played was larger, the putamen was less responsive. In the rested condition, the brain region didn’t show any difference between high- and low-reward conditions.
Franzen and Forbes also found connections between sleep restriction and mood. After a night of restricted sleep, the participants who had less activation in the putamen also reported more depressive symptoms. This is consistent with findings from a large literature of studies on depression and reward circuitry that depression is characterized by less activity in the brain’s reward system.
The results suggest that sleep deprivation in the ‘tween and teen years may interfere with how the brain processes rewards, which could disrupt mood and put a person at risk of depression – as well as risk-taking behavior and addiction.
DO AWAY WITH VARICOSE VEINS Many women, especially after giving birth, suffer from varicose veins, which are not only an esthetic but sometimes a medical problem. Varicose veins result from oxygen deficiency in the blood vessels due to the failure of valves in the legs, causing blood with carbon dioxide to go to the soles of the feet instead of returning to the lungs and heart.
Some women just wear elastic stockings to put pressure on their legs, but others suffer such pain that they decide to undergo surgery to remove the defective valves; this leaves scars on the legs.
In recent years, less-invasive methods have been developed that allow for minimally invasive surgery under local anesthesia with rapid and easy recovery, based on closing the vein using laser, radio waves or steam.
But Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center now offers a new, non-surgical approach for permanent vein closure using biological glue. Called VenaSeal and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, it is quick and eliminates the need for elastic stockings. A catheter is inserted through the skin, and a small amount of medical glue is injected into the affected vein. Once the vein is sealed, blood that was once backed up gets re-routed to other healthy veins in the leg, said Dr. Adam Farkash, a senior physician in the angiography institute and director of the vascular malformation clinic.
The procedure takes only half an hour and the patient is sent home the same day without any limitations or the use of elastic stockings that were required in the past.
The ablation procedure is covered by supplementary health insurance policies of one’s health fund, while the Venaseal technique is covered only by private insurance, as neither is included in the basket of health services.