ISU professor researches epilepsy questions


Courtesy of Meghan Wood

Meghan Wood and Lauren Wood posing for prom photos. Lauren was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 4. 

Dakota Carpenter

Epilepsy is a disease seen throughout the world that does not have a cure. It costs Americans roughly $15.5 billion a year and two million people in the United States alone have the disease.

Thimmasettapp Thippeswamy, professor in biomedical sciences, is joining the fight to help people with epilepsy by constructing his own research project.

Thippeswamy’s research is trying to figure out why not all people that have a seizure are diagnosed as epileptic. He has been working on his research since 2005 and uses mice to replicate seizure-like patterns that can be seen in humans.

Although he has not personally been affected by epilepsy, Thippeswamy said his motivation for his research is purely scientific.

“Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological diseases that affects [people] worldwide, and it affects all age groups,” Thippeswamy said.

Since epilepsy is a nervous system disorder, it can affect animals as well as humans — 5 percent of dogs and 3 percent of cats suffer from epilepsy.

While only 1 in 10 Americans will experience a seizure in their lifetime, only 3 percent of them will be diagnosed as an epileptic patient by the time they are 80. Humans are at the most risk for this disease when they are either younger than 2 or over 65.

Because the cause of epilepsy is unknown, there are no current prevention methods. Medication can be prescribed to epileptic patients, but one-third of patients will not respond to drugs.

Thippeswamy hopes to use his research to figure out why some patients do respond to drugs and some patients don’t.

For patients that don’t respond to treatment, there is another option. Patients could opt to have a surgery called a lobectomy. This surgery would remove the part of the brain that causes the seizures. Like any surgery, there are risks such as paraplegia. The risks would vary based on the part of the brain removed.

For some students on campus, epilepsy affects their daily lives through a family member, close friend or even personally.

Meghan Wood, a sophomore in industrial design, grew up with an epileptic sister. Wood’s sister began having seizures at the age of 4 and was diagnosed as epileptic shortly after.

“It was just a scary experience to see someone that you love be so out of control and go through such a rough thing at such a young age,” Wood said.

Her sister suffered from grand mal seizures and experienced them frequently during the night.

“My parents had a baby monitor on her until her middle school years. You’d hear the clicking of her mouth, and they’d rush to her room,” Wood said. “She’d shake violently.” 

Due to her epilepsy, Wood’s sister was affected socially and academically. For quite some time she was two to three years below her classmates. Wood said her sister had to take supplemental classes to keep up.

Thippeswamy said that epilepsy can affect a person’s memory as well as their ability to learn. The epileptic drugs sometimes prescribed to patients can affect behavior and mood swings as well. 

Epilepsy is not the same for every individual so treatment varies for different patients.

“There is so much variation from individual to individual, to seizure to seizure,” said Thippeswamy.

Wood’s family was able to help her sister find the right kinds of medication to help her manage her epilepsy. She is now a junior in high school and has been seizure free for seven years.

Natalie Fowler, freshman in engineering, had a friend in the eighth-grade whose mom battled epilepsy.

Fowler listened attentively to her friend describe her mom’s struggles with her seizures and was able to relate to her friend due to a family experience with epilepsy. Her own brother experienced seizures while growing up.

“It’s easy to talk to someone who can relate,” Fowler said.

The Epilepsy Foundation provides information regarding therapies, seizures and finding a doctor. There are also helplines and a variety of epilepsy centers for people to go to in order to get assistance.

Students who are epileptic are encouraged to visit the Student Disability Resources department within the Dean of Students Office for assistance on campus and any questions and concerns.