Breakthrough research for seizure prediction

Just a few months into her life, Elizabeth Delacruz was diagnosed with a rare and terminal neurological disease that cause seizures every hour. Now, working toward a possible treatment, researchers at UT Southwestern are using EEGs to help predict seizures minutes in advance. Read the story.


[Narrator] Imagine knowing almost at birth that your child will face extreme difficulties.

[Carmen] The first couple of months were hard because we didn't know what was going on.

[Narrator] At almost two years old Elizabeth Delacruz cannot crawl or move around like most toddlers.

She was seven months, that's when she was officially diagnosed with PDCD.

[Narrator] Born with a rare and terminal neurological disease called Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Deficiency or PDHD baby Elizabeth is limited with her mobility, and the illness has led to cortical blindness along with epileptic seizures.

[Carmen] She will have seizure just about every hour sometimes three or four back to back.

[Narrator] PDHD occurs when mitochondria don't fuel brain cells with enough energy.

We just kind of wing 'em day by day. Just caring for her and making sure that she was getting everything that she needed.

Seizures are quite harmful because the brain isn't designed to get excited over a certain level.

[Narrator] But a new study at UT Southwestern led by Dr. Juan Pascual shows there may be a way to solve the problem of seizure unpredictability.

The difference between what we've done and what the field has been doing up until now is that we were able to identify the particular cell type. In this one case, that particular cell type accounted for one single component of the EEG. And that's important because that allows you to read the EEG and see where the cell is not working and so therefore you're going to have a seizure.

[Narrator] Improving EEG analysis in this way can help identify markers for seizures and extend the amount of warning time. In turn, that additional time can provide opportunities to prevent seizures through treatment intervention.

If you were able to then intervene in some way, before you're going to have a seizure and successfully prevent it or terminate it sooner, it's an achievement.

[Narrator] Researchers at UT Southwestern can currently predict convulsions at least four minutes in advance. And although the strategy can't be used yet clinically, it signifies a potential breakthrough in a field that had only been able to forecast seizures a few seconds ahead.

Being able to identify a seizure before it happened, let alone treat it successfully. Just identifying them, it's significant.

[Narrator] Despite the difficult diagnosis, it's the little things like hearing her daughter's voice for the very first time that brings this mom joy.

She said mama, and she say it like really clear. That was the first time she actually said something. It was uh, just being able to hear her voice was, sorry, was very joyful for us.

[Narrator] And she prays that the scientific advances at UT Southwestern keep her hearing that sweet word for as long as possible.

[Carmen] She's my everything. I wouldn't wish to have any other child.