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‘Genetic treatment for epilepsy unlikely'

Special Correspondent



Venu Srinivasan, Managing Director, TVS Motor Company (second from left), honours Prof. Simon David Shorvon, UCL Institute of Neurology, London, at the 31st T.S. Srinivasan Endowment Oration in Chennai on Saturday. Others are Dr. Krishnamoorthy Srinivas, Chairman Emeritus, The Institute of Neurological Sciences, VHS Hospital, and Dr. E.S. Krishnamoorthy, Secretary, VHS.

CHENNAI: Epilepsy is not usually the result of a single gene variation, and thereby, genetic treatment for the condition is unlikely, Simon David Shorvon, professor of Clinical Neurology, UCL Institute of Neurology, London, said.

“The complexity of the genetics of epilepsy is indicative that we are not going to be able to identify strong genetic responses that lead to treatment of the condition,” Prof. Shorvon explained. “If there is a single gene that explains the whole disease, then somehow replacing that gene might enable restoration of function, as in many muscular disorders.”

“However, that is not the case with epilepsy, which as a neuro-developmental disorder, involves the differing interactions of many genes over time. Several genetic and environmental factors are at the heart of what causes epilepsy. The final phenotype is a complex mixture of genetic factors, and other environmental factors, sometimes even chance. In this highly complex situation, and given the very simplistic view that geneticists take today, clearly they had a very limited way down the path when it comes to epilepsy,” Prof. Shorvon said. He was delivering the 31 {+s} {+t} T. S. Srinivasan Endowment Oration, here on Saturday.

He also made the point that epilepsy was inherited by mechanisms by which other neurological conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, and autism, were also inherited. In that sense, though it was presumed that epilepsy itself caused, for instance, depression, there was now proof that the co-morbidity might even pre-date epilepsy.

Calling on scientists to maintain their social responsibility, Prof. Shorvon said science was not morally neutral. “Historically, theories that sought to explain epilepsy (degeneration, atavism, eugenics) have been disastrous for people. The same can apply today with the more powerful molecular genetics and predictive testing. It is essential to be exceptionally vigilant,” he said.

The Oration is sponsored by the T.S. Srinivasan Charitable Trust, through the T.S. Srinivasan Centre for Clinical Neurosciences and Health Policy, VHS, Taramani. The lecture was preceded by the T.S.Srinivasan Conclave that brought together experts on epilepsy across the world, said Venu Srinivasan, chairman and managing director, TVS Motor Company. Post conclave, a book Epilepsy – A Global Approach, edited by E.S. Krishnamoorthy of the T.S. Srinivasan Centre, Prof. Shorvon and Steven Schachter of Harvard University will be published, he added.

Prof. E.S. Krishnamoorthy, and Krishnamoorthy Srinivas, Chairman Emertius, The Institute of Neurological Sciences, VHS, also spoke.

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