Pig Brains Might Help Cure Epilepsy - Here's How


| LAST UPDATE 01/06/2022

By Hayden Katz
sea lion cure epilepsy
ucsf via Instagram

Nearly 3.4 million people are diagnosed with active epilepsy. And while there are different forms of medication, some individuals don't respond to them. But scientists have now discovered that seizures could be reduced by using pig brain cells. Here's what their research suggests.

Back in October of 2020, researchers tested the effects of pig brain cells on epilepsy by translating a healthy pig's neurons into a sea lion's brain - more specifically the hippocampus. According to a neuroscientist who led the procedure at the University of California, San Francisco, Scott Baraban, the seven-year-old sea lion named Cronutt, hasn't suffered a seizure since the surgery more than a year ago. The results have left the team to wonder if this treatment could cure epilepsy in humans? A professor of pharmacology and toxicology, whose research centers around the neurological disorder at the University of Utah, Karen Wilcox said, "It's a very promising approach." She explained, "If you can really focus the application of the therapy right where the seizures are generated, you could spare the other parts of the brain from some of the side effects that we see with taking medications."

pig brain cells seizures
@ucsf via Instagram
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The healthy cells that are placed inside Cronutt's damaged hippocampus are meant to repress the parts of the brain that produce seizures. There are around 30 other anti-seizure medications that create similar effects. The difference is those treatments come with numerous mood-altering side effects because they aren't localized to a specific area in the brain, while this new procedure is. It goes into the hippocampus since this area is associated with learning and memory - and, of course, is also susceptible to seizures.

sea lion epilepsy cure
ucsf via Instagram

Mariana Casalia, a neuroscientist that was a part of the 18-person research team at UCSF, developed a way to withdraw special precursor neurons, called medial ganglionic eminence cells, from pig embryos. These cells enter the hippocampus during development and turn into inhibitory neurons, meaning they cease activity. A human brain with epilepsy has either lost or damaged inhibitory cells. By transplanting them into the brain of sea lions, rats, or humans, the hyperactivity that occurs during seizures will cease to occur. While the surgery was deemed successful on Cronutt, more experiments need to be conducted before the epilepsy treatment is given to humans. Stay tuned!

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