Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs 519 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

November 21, 2006

Epilepsy Research in Dogs Could Help Treat Humans

A University of Guelph professor who is working to find ways to diagnose and treat epilepsy in dogs says a better understanding of canine epilepsy may help with treating the condition in humans.

“In a clinical setting, we often jump from clinical symptoms to treatment of epilepsy,” said Prof. Roberto Poma, a veterinary neurologist at the Ontario Veterinary College.“What we’re looking at is the information missing in the middle, which will help us characterize epileptic syndromes in dogs and hopefully provide valuable support to investigate human epilepsy.”

Poma and his research team hope to characterize specific breed-related epilepsy syndromes and compare them with human epilepsies. Even within dog breeds, seizure type and neurological signs vary. Understanding these variations is important for proper diagnosis and treatment, he said.

The pilot study involves three common breeds suffering from canine idiopathic epilepsy (having no known cause for the disease): the golden retriever, Australian shepherd and Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever.

To characterize conditions properly, Poma begins by gathering information on the dog’s history and performing a neurological examination. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain is performed to rule out primary abnormalities. He also conducts electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate brain electrical activity in epileptic dogs. For this, he uses two types of equipment — a routine EEG system for patients in hospital and an ambulatory system adapted for dogs in their home environment.

Because most dogs suffering from idiopathic epilepsy tend to have seizures at night — and often only in their home environment — using the ambulatory technique will allow researchers to monitor patients more precisely, Poma said.
Both EEG systems can be synchronized with video monitoring to help compare the clinical symptoms observed with abnormal brain electrical activity experienced by the dog during a seizure.

Canine epilepsy often results in frustrating outcomes because dogs can be resistant to conventional treatment with antiepileptic drugs. An alternative research treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is currently available at OVC. Non-invasive and painless, it uses magnetic stimuli to influence brain electrical activity and reduce the likelihood of a seizure occurring.

It is paired with sophisticated imaging software called Brainsight, which reconstructs a 3-D image of the dog’s brain from the MRI and helps guide the placement of magnetic stimulation to target the affected epileptic site. TMS has been widely used for treating human neurological conditions such as depression, mood disorders, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia and epilepsy.

Poma hopes to further link his findings to genes in dogs and humans. He plans to use his improved understanding of the disease to locate abnormal genes and map the causes of epilepsy. He’ll be working with Berge Minassian, a neurologist, epileptologist and geneticist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

Also involved in this study are Guelph graduate student Fiona James of the Department of Clinical Studies and epilepsy researcher John Ives of the University of Western Ontario. This work is sponsored by the Canada Foundation for Innovation.

Prof. Roberto Poma
519 824-4120, Ext. 54129

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519 824- 4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56982.

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