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September 3, 2014  

I am happy to share with you more important and exciting research news.

 Dr. Edward T. H. Yeh (left) with Dr. James T. Willerson
Dr. Edward T. H. Yeh (left) and Dr. James T. Willerson
THI’s Dr. Edward T.H. Yeh, who is also chairman of the Cardiology Department at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, is the leader of a team of researchers who have discovered a mechanism causing sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP), the most common cause of premature death in epilepsy patients. The research, being published this month in the prestigious neuroscience journal Neuron, is expected to lead to a new research effort to identify the genetic causes of SUDEP.

Specifically, the researchers discovered how SUMO (Small Ubiquitin-like Modifier) proteins in the neurons turn off potassium channels that are known to regulate neuron excitability. Without regulation, the neurons are hyper-excitable leading to seizures. Furthermore, seizures cause a slowing down and complete stop of the heart to cause sudden death.

The team further discovered that both seizure and heart block can be prevented by a new third-generation anti-epilepsy drug.

The research identifies the disease-causing role of this “hyper-SUMOylation” and establishes an animal model through which new medication can begin to be tested.

It was Dr. Yeh who first discovered SUMO in 1996. Among his many other accomplishments, he also established the field of Onco-cardiology, which provides personalized, comprehensive cardiac care to cancer patients.

“Sudden death is 20 times more frequent in patients who suffer from epilepsy,” Dr. Yeh points out. “This work points to a new direction in preventing this dreaded outcome.”

Well said, Dr. Yeh. Epilepsy currently affects about 2 million people in the US. They and their families would certainly agree.

The research was done by a team from the THI, M.D. Anderson, Baylor College of Medicine and the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

The team, led by Dr. Yeh, included Drs. Yitao Qi, Jinxiong Wang, Valerie C. Bomben, De-Pei Lit, Shao-Rui Chen, Hao Sun, Yutao Xi, John G. Reed, Jinke Cheng, Hui-Lin Pan, and Jeffrey L. Noebels.

Congratulations are certainly in order to all of them.

With respect and gratitude,

James T. Willerson signature
James T. Willerson, MD

P.S. The generosity in your hearts has changed the lives of others. THI can continue as a world leader in life-saving medical research and advanced treatments with your support.

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Contact Dr. Willerson.

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