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Gene Discovered for Most Common Form of Epilepsy
Date:1/28/2009

The hope is the finding could lead to new treatments for the neurological disorder

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have linked a genetic variation to a common form of epilepsy in children, potentially paving the way toward greater insight into the disorder.

"It's the first step toward developing a diagnostic test, which can help provide a more precise diagnosis and information about which particular drug or treatment may be effective," said study senior author Dr. Deb Pal, a pediatric neurologist and research scientist at Columbia University.

Epilepsy affects an estimated 60 million people worldwide, about 1 percent of the entire population, Pal said. In the United States, an estimated three million people have the disorder.

The condition causes seizures when electrical signals in the brain are disrupted. In the worst cases, the seizures rob people of consciousness and control over their bodies.

In some cases, the cause of epilepsy is obvious, Pal said. It may develop after a head injury or brain tumor, for instance.

But the cause is unclear about two-thirds of the time, he said. However, "in the last 15 years, there's been a concerted effort to try to get to the bottom of the majority of these."

Genetics appear to play a role. "We know that in twins, if one twin has it, there's a higher chance the other twin will have it," Pal said. Also, researchers have discovered that families prone to unusual types of epilepsy share unusual genes, another indication of a genetic link, he said.

In the new study, researchers decided to look at the most common type of epilepsy in children, known as Rolandic epilepsy.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, Rolandic epilepsy affects 16 percent of children who develop epilepsy before age 15. Patients typically have seizures during sleep, and the condition disappears in 95 percent of those affected by the time th
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