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Epilepsy in a Model

Sudden cramps, seemingly without a cause: Prof. Dr. Carola Haas is studying the reasons for epileptic seizures at the Center for Clinical Neurosciences of the University of Freiburg. Her research combines approaches from microsystems engineering and medicine.


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0.5–1% of the world’s population suffer from epilepsy. That is quite a lot for a neurological disease. Prof. Dr. Carola Haas is studying the reasons for epileptic seizures at the Center for Clinical Neurosciences of the University of Freiburg. (© valdezrl / fotolia.com)

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0.5–1% of the world’s population suffer from epilepsy. That is quite a lot for a neurological disease. 25% of these patients are classified as drug-resistant, meaning that even medicinal therapy does not make them seizure-free. Despite many years of research, scientists have not yet succeeded in answering all of the questions concerning the causes of the disease.

 

  • Research Focus: Drug-Resistant Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

Prof. Dr. Carola Haas is a neurobiologist and experimental epileptologist at the Center for Clinical Neurosciences of the University of Freiburg. She aims to find out how people suffering from epilepsy lose control of their brains. Her research focuses on temporal lobe epilepsy, the most common form of the disease among adults. The seizures in this form of epilepsy originate in the temporal lobes of the cerebrum and often cannot be controlled by drugs.

Haas and her team want to determine the extent to which structural and molecular changes in the brain, such as the regeneration of nerve cells or the loss of ordered stratification, bring it into a state of disequilibrium in patients afflicted with temporal lobe epilepsy.

 

  • Tissue Shows Disease-Related Changes

In the first area of her research, Haas is studying the brain tissue of epilepsy patients in order to determine what structural and molecular changes the seizures cause in the brain. She has succeeded in demonstrating that many nerve cells have died off in the brains of these patients.

The problem of working with the tissue of patients, however, is that the disease has already manifested, and it is thus only possible to describe its chronic state. While this approach allows the scientist to trace the course of the disease and the changes it involves, it reveals nothing about its cause. Haas is thus pursuing another research approach – which, like all of the others, has been approved by the Ethics Commission – in which she is reproducing the clinical picture of temporal lobe epilepsy in mice in order to more closely observe the course of the disease and the changes it leads to in the brain.

 

  • In vitro Epilepsy Models for Determining the Causes of the Disease

In order to reproduce epilepsy, the epileptologist is also working with samples of tissue dissected from mouse brains in culture. She keeps healthy tissue alive and adds pathogenic substances to it to make it epileptic until the tissue resembles that of a diseased brain: The result is an in vitro epilepsy model that can be used to follow the path of the disease. She then adds various chemical substances to the in vitro samples, observes their reactions, and compares the results to the human tissue of epilepsy patients. This allows the scientist to determine how and when certain neuron populations die off or regenerate and how the brain reaches the state it exhibits in a person inflicted with epilepsy. Not until this question has been answered will it be possible to develop an effective treatment for temporal lobe epilepsy.

 

  • Combining Microsystems Engineering and Medicine

Prof. Haas’ research unites the research areas of Prof. Dr. Ulrich Egert, who is developing new kinds of recording electrodes in order to make signals in the brain visible, Prof. Dr. Andreas Schulze Bonhage, head of the Epilepsy Center , and Prof. Dr. Cornelius Weiller, who is engaged in the therapy of epilepsy patients as director of the University Neurological Clinic. This contact between the three disciplines enables intensive research on the reasons for epileptic seizures.
gischen Universitätsklinik in der Therapie von Epilepsie-Patienten tätig ist. Durch diesen Kontakt zwischen den drei Disziplinen ist eine intensive Forschung möglich, um die Gründe für epileptische Anfälle aufzuklären.

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Prof. Dr. Carola Haas

Carola Haas has served as a professor in the area of experimental epilepsy at the Center for Clinical Neurosciences of the University of Freiburg since 2004. Following several years of research abroad – in France, Sweden, and the USA, among other places – she earned her doctorate at the LMU Munich and her habilitation in 2001 at the University of Freiburg. Haas is a member of the Society for Neuroscience, the German Anatomical Society, and the German Neuroscience Society.

  

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Microsopic images of nerve celles in the brain of a patient, left is the controlled State, right during an epileptic stroke in the temporal lobe.

The pathologie of the temporal epilepsy is simulated in mice, to observe in more detail how the disease devellops and what kind of changes in the brain can be recorded. The image shows nerve cells of the brain in the controlled state.

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The pathologie of the temporal epilepsy is simulated in mice, to observe in more detail how the disease devellops and what kind of changes in the brain can be recorded. The image shows nerve cells of the brain during a stroke.

Brain slices in culture: tissue is kept alive in vitro and with exciting substances a epileptic tissue is genereated until it ressembles an epileptic brain.

 

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