High-powered magnets on the brain help control seizures in Dravet mice

Scientists say more work is needed to safely develop the therapy for patients

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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A rodent is held in a hand, as test tubes of blood sit nearby.

Treatment with a noninvasive procedure called transcranial static magnetic stimulation (tSMS) led to significantly less seizure activity in a mouse model of Dravet syndrome.

“Our results show that tSMS, a non-invasive neuromodulatory technique, can reduce the number, duration, and severity of [seizures] in a mouse model of” Dravet, researchers wrote in the study, “Transcranial static magnetic stimulation reduces seizures in a mouse model of Dravet syndrome,” which was published in Experimental Neurology.

tSMS involves applying a powerful magnetic field to the brain. While it’s not known exactly how this affects brain activity, there’s data suggesting it can reduce the overactivation of brain cells, like what happens during seizures in people with Dravet syndrome.

“We believe that tSMS is emerging as an affordable, simple, safe and promising therapy for Dravet patients, alone or complementing the partial effectiveness that has been obtained with other treatments,” the researchers wrote.

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Sham procedure vs. active tSMS was used in experiment

Here the scientists tested tSMS in a mouse model where mice were triggered to experience seizures by exposing them to high temperatures. The mice were exposed either to active tSMS or a sham procedure without magnetic stimulation.

The researchers conducted two sets of experiments: in one, mice were alternatively given active tSMS or the sham procedure. Results showed mice had fewer and shorter seizures while undergoing active tSMS; total time spent in seizures was reduced by about 72%.

In the second set of experiments, some mice received multiple consecutive rounds of active tSMS, while other mice received multiple consecutive sham procedures. Results here also showed less seizure activity in mice given active tSMS; treated mice overall spent about 86% less time in seizure activity.

The researchers calculated that, in the setup they used, the mice’s brains were being exposed to a magnetic field of about 0.2 to 0.3 Teslas in strength. That’s around 5,000 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field at the surface of the planet.

The researchers said these numbers could provide a useful benchmark for future work aiming to translate this approach into a treatment for humans. The team speculated that, in theory, this approach might be used to make helmet-like devices that could continuously deliver magnetic stimulation to patients’ brains to reduce seizure activity. They stressed, however, a lot more work will need to be done to ensure this can be done safely.