Phases. Today is Rare Disease Day. I would like to use this opportunity to explain some of the phenotype science that is critical for rare diseases. In contrast to common disorders, rare diseases face an unusual challenge. Once identified, the overall rareness of these condition poses the question of where phenotypes begin and where they end. For rare genetic disorders, is the phenotype of the first individual identified with a rare disease characteristic, or is there a larger spectrum that we should be aware of? Enter the various approaches to phenotype science that aim to decipher the full depth of clinical features associated with rare diseases. In order to understand the various approaches to rare diseases phenotypes, I would like to suggest a somewhat unusual analogy: phenotypes are like water.
Looking back. Admittedly, I have not written an end-of-the-year review for a quite some time. However, there were a few notable moments in epilepsy genetics in 2021 that I think were worth remembering. The second year of the COVID-19 pandemic started out as a year of recovery and readjustment, only to run into unanticipated supply chain issues and novel COVID variants hanging over our transition into 2022. The scientific community was affected by these developments in different ways that made progress of science somewhat unpredictable and uneven. 2021 was the year when the phrase “unprecedented times” became stale and overused. Here are five things to remember from 2021, which will be remembered as part of a transitional phase in epilepsy genetics. Continue reading
EMR. When we consider the natural history of rare diseases like the genetic epilepsies, we typically think about a lack of longitudinal data that contrasts with the abundant genetic information that is available nowadays – the so-called phenotyping gap. We typically suggest that we need to obtain this information in future prospective studies to better understand long-term outcome, response to medications, and potential early warning signs for an adverse disease course. However, a vast amount of clinical data is collected on an ongoing basis through electronic medical records (EMR) as a byproduct of regular patient care. In a recent study, our group built tools to mine the electronic medical records to assess the disease history of 658 individuals with known or presumed epilepsies using clinical information collected at more than 62,000 patients encounters across more than 3,200 patient years. Here is a brief summary of our first study on EMR genomics, an untapped resource that has the potential to improve our understanding of the genetic epilepsies. Continue reading
Continued expansion of the KCNT1 phenotype. In 2012, de novo heterozygous KCNT1 variants were first described in six individuals with migrating partial seizures of infancy (MPSI) (Barcia et al, 2012). In the same edition of Nature Genetics, Heron and colleagues (2012) described 3 families with frontal lobe epilepsy with prominent psychiatric features were also identified to have heterozygous disease-causing variants in KCNT1. Within the last 5 years, de novo and inherited heterozygous KCNT1 variants have been found in a number of patients with MPSI and ADNFLE. Yet, there have been no clear genotype-phenotype correlations established. Recently, several studies have identified KCNT1 variants in patients with other types of epilepsy. Keep reading to learn more about the expansion of the KCNT1-associated epilepsy phenotype. Continue reading