Creighton husband-wife duo studying fatal complications of epilepsy

A Creighton University School of Medicine team is studying fatal complications of epilepsy.
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 10:31 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A husband-wife science duo is putting their brains together to study other brains.

Their project at the Creighton University School of Medicine is investigating a fatal complication of epilepsy.

It’s called sudden, unexpected death in epilepsy or SUDEP. Those with severe, uncontrolled seizures have a one in 150 chance of dying from this complication. It’s something that hits home for the couple.

“I do this work because I have a friend who has a daughter who is at high risk for SUDEP, and ten years ago when I met her,” said Dr. Kristina Simeone, lead investigator of the lab. “She really inspired me to try to figure out ways she could help keep her daughter alive.”

Powered by a $1.5 million NIH grant and a team of undergraduates, graduate students, and medical students, the study aims to make strides in an area that’s long been understudied.

“About 15 years ago, we started to really start to fully understand. But before that, not much is known about it. And still, not much is known about it,” she said.

What they’ve hypothesized is SUDEP patients can experience a lack of oxygen because of their severe seizures. Some begin breathing normally, but not all.

To find out what’s actually causing that scientists are studying the complication in mice.

“If we can identify what brain regions are dysfunctional, then we can use that information to develop a therapy, maybe a preventive strategy or maybe a rescue therapy.”

A year in…the team has made strides to identify some biomarkers – or indicators – of SUDEP as well as other important information.

“We found in our model of SUDEP that there are definite differences,” said Dr. Tim Simeone. “That they have a hard time recovering and coming back to normal.”

In the lab, recent graduates and post-graduates help with protein analysis work, analyzing neurons, breathing responses, and creating brain slices from samples.

Shruthi Iyer/3rd Year Ph.D. student: “My project is focused on the respiratory mechanisms that are involved in sudden death in epilepsy,” said Shruthi Iyer, 3rd year Ph.D. student in the lab.

It’s a dynamic team working toward one goal.

“Together we kind of get the whole picture or we try to get the whole picture,” said Tim Simeone.