JAN 09, 2022 10:00 AM PST

Transplanted Pig Brain Cells Cured Epilepsy in a Sea Lion

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

Epilepsy is a disorder characterized by abnormal brain activity (often caused by a genetic condition, injury, or stroke) which results in seizures. Upwards of 3 million people in the U.S. live with epilepsy.

While there are no cures for epilepsy, many treatments exist to help manage seizures caused by epilepsy. These treatments work by silencing abnormal brain activity that cause seizures. Surgery to implant devices that regulate brain activity may also be an option, though surgery is invasive and risky. Pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, often come with a lot of unpleasant side effects, such as changes in mood, because they tend to target the entire brain, rather than the centralized area of the brain causing seizures. 

Last year, researchers attempted something a bit unique: a sea lion named Cronutt was suffering from epilepsy and seizures. His keepers had tried many treatments, but none seemed to work. So, they tried an experimental treatment: implanting healthy pig brain cells, which turned out to be beneficial. Since the procedure in 2020, Cronutt has been seizure free. So what exactly happened?

The treatment was based on previous research that suggested the use of brain cells derived from pig embryos helped mitigate occurrences of seizures in mice. The cells used in the procedure were precursor neurons called medial ganglionic eminence cells, and were injected into a very specific region of the brain, which researchers hoped would reduce the likelihood of side effects. Medial ganglionic eminence cells play an important part during fetal development, where they reside in the hippocampus and work as a check on overactivity in the brain and help keep electrical activity in balance. 

People with epilepsy often have damaged or missing neurons, and therefore do not have anything to inhibit overactive brain activity. Researchers note that while Cronutt has thrived and is seizure free, the cells they implanted cannot reverse any damage that might already have occurred. 

While any attempts to replicate this treatment in humans is several years off, researchers believe the use of similar brain cells and a similar procedure could hold promise. Though not without its own set of risks (e.g., the body rejecting foreign cells), the use of neuron cells could offer a different treatment approach than pharmaceuticals and surgery. 

Sources: National Geographic; Epilepsy; CDC; Annals of Neurology

About the Author
Professional Writing
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
You May Also Like
JAN 27, 2022
Cannabis Sciences
Edibles are a Common Culprit in Child Cannabis Poisoning
JAN 27, 2022
Edibles are a Common Culprit in Child Cannabis Poisoning
A study published in JAMA Network Open found that Ontario emergency room (ER) visits for children with cannabis poisonin ...
MAR 15, 2022
Plants & Animals
Could Artificial Eggs Prevent the Extinction of the Northern White Rhino?
MAR 15, 2022
Could Artificial Eggs Prevent the Extinction of the Northern White Rhino?
Due to both conflicts in various regions in Africa and a desire for rhino horn (which has been used in traditional medic ...
APR 05, 2022
Plants & Animals
How Eating Mushrooms Improves Gut Health
APR 05, 2022
How Eating Mushrooms Improves Gut Health
Mushrooms have a strange and fascinating history. They’ve always been viewed with significant skepticism, as many ...
APR 10, 2022
Plants & Animals
Turmeric Helps Regenerate Blood Vessels and Tissue
APR 10, 2022
Turmeric Helps Regenerate Blood Vessels and Tissue
Turmeric is a common Indian spice used in a wide variety of dishes, and is derived from the root of a turmeric plant. It ...
MAY 03, 2022
Genetics & Genomics
Research Indicates Dog Breed Doesn't Determine Personality
MAY 03, 2022
Research Indicates Dog Breed Doesn't Determine Personality
While dog breeders may dispute the conclusions based on their own experiences, new research has indicated that almost no ...
MAY 12, 2022
Cannabis Sciences
Resources For Growing Your Own Cannabis
MAY 12, 2022
Resources For Growing Your Own Cannabis
Resources for growing your own cannabis at home, including the science behind getting the best grows possible.
Loading Comments...