The science of data visualization in epilepsy genetics

Language. In the recent years, there has been an emerging focus on the phenotypic characterization of genetic epilepsies and neurodevelopmental disorders. With a rise in large-scale studies leveraging massive and complex genetic and phenotypic datasets, understanding how we make sense of big data becomes critical. However, determining what are clinically meaningful findings and communicating the conclusions we make from these datasets remain a challenge. While we typically think about data in the scope of ‘n’s, probabilities, and p-values, there is understated value in the visualization of information. Here is a different way of how we think about scientific communication and how we can “make data speak in childhood epilepsies.”

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The future of biomarker development in rare disease

CNS Biomarkers. In the last two days, our team attended the Workshop for Multimodal Biomarkers in CNS Disorders held at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, DC. This conference provided a needed review of the current state of multimodal biomarker discovery and development. While most of the speakers focused on more common CNS disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and neuropsychiatric disorders, there stands to be important lessons that can be translated into the rare disease field. Here is what we learned about the clinical utility of biomarkers and their potential as we move towards precision medicine in rare disease.

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The genetics of FIRES and status epilepticus in 2023

FIRES. As a rare and severe epilepsy syndrome, febrile-infection related epilepsy syndrome (FIRES) is characterized by refractory status epilepticus (RSE) preceded by a febrile illness and often leads to prolonged hospitalizations, cognitive impairment, and intractable epilepsy. There are currently no clear causative etiologies identified in FIRES, and the underlying genetic architecture remains elusive. Here is a brief summary of our recent manuscript on the genetics of FIRES and refractory status epilepticus. This is what we learned about one of the most enigmatic conditions in child neurology.

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How precise is precision medicine – the difference between theoretical guidelines and real-world practice in pediatric epilepsy

Precision medicine. This post continues the discussion on how we can make sense of clinical data in the absence of outcomes in the context of precision medicine – a concept that drives much of what we do on a research basis. The fundamental idea is that clinical care in pediatric epilepsies can be personalized and tailored to underlying etiologies. With continual progress in gene curation and variant interpretation alongside clinical knowledge, we typically expect that treatment suggestions are immediately implemented after the discovery of the causative genetic etiology. For example, a child with early onset epileptic encephalopathy is found to have a gain-of-function variant in SCN8A and is almost immediately started on a sodium channel blocker such as Trileptal. However, to what extent is this the case? In the context of precision medicine, how precise are we exactly?

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Revisiting the phenotypic gap – the value in absent phenotypes

Phenotypic bottleneck. This is another post in the “phenotypic atomism series,” what has become our lab’s philosophy in how we think about and work with longitudinal clinical data. However, before we introduce another dimension to the phenotypic atom, let me first revisit the idea of the “phenotypic bottleneck” – a concept that had piqued my interest three years ago and led me to join the lab. In brief, in contrast to established pipelines for large-scale analysis of sequencing data, our ability to analyze clinical data at scale remains more limited. As a result, phenotypic characterization lags behind gene discovery, even with tremendous progress in the last few years. A major challenge stems from the inherent nature of working with multi-dimensional longitudinal clinical data: it can be sparse and incomplete at times. However, how much of the unknown is truly unknown?

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Unlocking STXBP1 through Electronic Medical Records

Understanding the EMR. Several weeks ago, I gave a presentation at the STXBP1 Summit conference, the third annual meeting since the first in 2019 – a time when I had just entered the field of neurogenetics. It has been fascinating to follow one of the neurodevelopmental genes with the “fastest growing knowledge,” with the expanded scope of clinical studies and emergence of novel avenues for targeted gene therapies on the horizon. However, one of the many projects our STXBP1 team is currently working on takes a somewhat atypical approach – we aimed to map the natural disease history of STXBP1-related disorders based entirely on reconstructed Electronic Medical Records (EMR). Here are some of the challenges we have had to confront and what we learned searching for meaning in the depth of the EMR. Continue reading