A new study published in Annals of Neurology lends more evidence to support the use of brain cooling in treating epilepsy. The US study has shown that using a cooling device in laboratory animals has discouraged the development of seizures in the weeks following a brain injury.
Study author, Prof Matthew Smyth MD, explains: “Warmer brain cells seem to be more electrically active, and that may increase the likelihood of abnormal electrical discharges that can coalesce to form a seizure. Cooling should have the opposite effect.”
Prof Smyth’s study was performed by researchers at both the University of Washington and the University of Minnesota. It was originally designed to test whether brain cooling would stop existing seizures in the brains of laboratory animals. The study was more successful than he expected, however. It soon became clear that the animals’ seizures were being prevented altogether.
When someone experiences a brain injury that may result in epilepsy, there is a period sometimes called the ‘latency period’. This is when changes are happening in the brain as a result of the injury, changes that ultimately lead to the development of epilepsy. Prof Smyth’s team noticed that cooling the rats’ brains by just four degrees Fahrenheit (just over two degrees Celsius) seemed to prevent these changes – potentially stopping the development of epilepsy.
Two groups of rats were involved in the study. Both groups wore headsets – in one group, those headsets did nothing, while in the other the headsets cooled the brain. Scientists then watched the results.
The rats whose headsets did nothing developed epilepsy as predicted. They went on to have progressively longer and more severe seizures in the weeks after the brain injury. This was not the case for the second groups. Those rats whose brains had been cooled had very few, brief seizure events even several months after brain injury.
Prof Smyth concludes: “If clinical trials confirm that cooling has similar effects in humans, it could change the way we treat patients with head injuries, and for the first time reduce the chance of developing epilepsy after brain injury.”