Entering the phenotype era – HPO-based similarity, big data, and the genetic epilepsies

Semantic similarity. The phenotype era in the epilepsies has now officially started. While it is possible for us to generate and analyze genetic data in the epilepsies at scale, phenotyping typically remains a manual, non-scalable task. This contrast has resulted in a significant imbalance where it is often easier to obtain genomic data than clinical data. However, it is often not the lack of clinical data that causes this problem, but our ability to handle it. Clinical data is often unstructured, incomplete and multi-dimensional, resulting in difficulties when trying to meaningfully analyze this information. Today, our publication on analyzing more than 31,000 phenotypic terms in 846 patient-parent trios with developmental and epileptic encephalopathies (DEE) appeared online. We developed a range of new concepts and techniques to analyze phenotypic information at scale, identified previously unknown patterns, and were bold enough to challenge the prevailing paradigms on how statistical evidence for disease causation is generated. Continue reading

The natural history of genetic epilepsies as told by 3,200 years of electronic medical records

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

GNAO1 and 13K genomes – rare disease sequencing on a national level

WGS. Whole-genome sequencing is increasingly used to understand the cause of rare diseases in a research and diagnostic context. However, while the usefulness of this technology has been shown in smaller studies, it remains unclear whether strategies to understand the cause of rare disorders through whole genome sequencing can be performed on a national level. A recent study in Nature reported the first results from a national sequencing campaign for rare disorders in the UK, including the analysis of more than 13,000 genomes. In this blog post, I would like to focus on the neurogenetics component of this enormous study, which identified disease-causing variants in GNAO1 as the most common cause within the study’s subgroup of neurological and developmental disorders. Continue reading

STXBP1-related disorders – one or two disease mechanisms?

Haploinsufficiency. STXBP1-related disorders are one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders due to pathogenic variants in a single gene. Haploinsufficiency is the proposed disease mechanism and a significant number of individuals have deletions or protein-truncating variants. However, there are also recurrent missense variants in STXBP1, which is often seen in diseases that have a different disease mechanism. In a recent publication in Nature Communications, some of the recurrent variants in STXBP1 are suggested to have an additional disease mechanism, a dominant-negative effect. In this blog post, I want to discuss how we can reconcile both observations and whether STXBP1-related disorders are a single entity with a common disease mechanism. Continue reading

STXBP1 – your questions for the Channelopathist

Controversy. Our recent post that featured our Neurology publication on STXBP1 generated much interest, discussion, and debate. In particular, we received feedback from the online STXBP1 parent community that our assessment of STXBP1 encephalopathy as a static rather than a degenerative disease may be incomplete. Let me try to reconcile the results of our study with the experiences that families have shared with us in the last two weeks, trying to understand how STXBP1 can be a disease with many faces and what the common features are. Continue reading

The two dimensions of STXBP1 – a 2016 update

Synaptic. This is STXBP1 week and things are currently happening in rapid succession. We are getting ready for the first STXBP1 Charity Ball and our publication in Neurology reviewing the phenotypic features of 147 patients recently came online. STXBP1 is one of the five most common genes for epileptic encephalopathies and related neurodevelopmental disorders. However, in contrast to SCN1A, SCN2A, CDKL5, or SCN8A, it has received relatively little attention in the past from the epilepsy community. Let’s revisit a common epilepsy gene that holds more secrets than most people would imagine. Continue reading