Thursday, June 5, 2014

Higgins Leads Athena's Quest for More Specific Epilepsy Diagnoses

Joseph J. Higgins, MD
Last month I had an opportunity to sit down with Joseph J. Higgins, MD at the American Academy of Neurology Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. Dr. Higgins is Athena Diagnostics' recently named medical director for neurology.
Among the topics we discussed is Athena's new advances in helping clinicians diagnose autoimmune epilepsy disorders. A growing body of evidence points to an autoimmune etiology for a proportion of drug-resistant epilepsy cases. Dr. Higgins, with the horsepower of Athena's parent company Quest Diagnostics behind him, is leading the way in making auto-antibody testing available to patients with intractable epilepsy. While patients with pathogenic auto-antibodies often experience heightened adverse effects and typically respond poorly to conventional treatment, they can respond very well to immunomodulatory therapy. Autoantibodies to surface proteins that influence neuronal excitability have been found in the serum and cerebral spinal fluid of well over 10% of patients with epilepsy—whether the epilepsy was newly-diagnosed or established. In many cases, once identified, autoimmune epilepsy can be slowed, halted, or even reversed with adjunctive immunotherapy. Testing to establish an accurate diagnosis is an important part of selecting an optimal treatment plan. In a recent study (see reference below), 81% of adult patients diagnosed with autoimmune epilepsy experienced significant improvement in seizure status when immunotherapy was used in combination with anti-epileptic medications; 67% achieved complete seizure freedom.

Among the clinical syndromes that can be investigated using CSF auto-antibody assays are Morvan's Syndrome (by testing for VGKC complex, predominantly CASPR2) and NMDA Receptor Antibody Encephalitis (by testing for NMDA receptor, NR1 subunit). Dr. Higgins is at the forefront of personalized epilepsy treatment. Athena's advances in this field will ultimately improve patient outcomes while reducing medical costs. 


Reference: Quek AM, Britton JW, McKeon A, et al. Autoimmune epilepsy: clinical characteristics and response to immunotherapy. Arch Neurol 2012;69:582-93.
Joseph J. Higgins, M.D.
Joseph J. Higgins, M.D.

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